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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2013 Feb;138(1):157-65. doi: 10.1007/s10549-013-2426-0. Epub 2013 Feb 3.

Expression of key oestrogen-regulated genes differs substantially across the menstrual cycle in oestrogen receptor-positive primary breast cancer.

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Department of Academic Biochemistry, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London SW3 6JJ, UK.


Plasma estradiol (E2) and progesterone vary markedly through the menstrual cycle. Data on whether these differences in hormone levels affect gene expression in oestrogen receptor-positive (ER+) tumours are inconsistent. We wished to determine whether there are substantial changes in the expression of oestrogen-regulated genes (ERGs) in ER+ breast cancer through the menstrual cycle. One hundred and seventy five paraffin-embedded ER+ breast carcinomas from premenopausal patients were analysed. Timing of the ovarian cycle was confirmed using serum progesterone levels. Patients were ascribed to one of three pre-defined menstrual cycle windows: 1 (days 27-35 + 1-6), 2 (days 7-16) and 3 (days 17-26). The RNA expression of ESR1, four ERGs (PGR, GREB1, TFF1 and PDZK1), and three proliferation genes (MKI67, TOP2A and CDC20) were compared between the windows. Gene expression of the four ERGs was 53-129 % higher in window 2 than window 1 (p = 0.0013, 0.0006, 0.022 and 0.066 for PGR, GREB1, TFF1 and PDZK1, respectively) and lower (9-41 %) in window 3 compared to window 2 (p = 0.079, 0.31, 0.031 and 0.065 for PGR, GREB1, TFF1 and PDZK1, respectively). Their average expression (AvERG) was 64 % higher in window 2 than window 1 (p < 0.0001) and 21 % lower in window 3 than window 2 (p = 0.0043). There were no significant differences between the windows for ESR1 and proliferation genes. In agreement with the gene expression data, progesterone receptor protein levels measured by immunohistochemistry (IHC) were 164 and 227 % higher in windows 2 and 3, respectively, compared to window 1 (30.7 and 37.9 % cells positive vs. 11.6 %; p = 0.0003 and 0.0004, respectively), while no difference in ER IHC score was observed. In conclusion, we observed significant differences in the expression of ERGs in ER+ breast tumours across the menstrual cycle. This variability may affect the interpretation of gene expression profiles incorporating ERGs and may be exploitable as an endogenous test of endocrine responsiveness.

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