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Int J Cancer. 1998 Oct 23;79(5):468-75.

Heat shock protein expression and drug resistance in breast cancer patients treated with induction chemotherapy.

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Laboratory of Reproduction and Lactaction, Regional Center for Scientific and Technological Research, Mendoza, Argentina.


Heat shock proteins (Hsps) are induced in vitro by several cytotoxic drugs; in human breast cancer cells these proteins appear to be involved in anti-cancer drug resistance. The present report was designed to analyze whether chemotherapy affects in vivo the expression of Hsp27, Hsp70, Hsc70 and Hsp90 in breast cancer patients treated with induction chemotherapy and whether these proteins may be determinants of tumor resistance to drug administration. We have analyzed 35 biopsies from breast cancer patients treated with induction chemotherapy. Expression of the Hsps in the tumors was compared with (i) histological and clinical responses to chemotherapy, (ii) tumor cell proliferation measured by proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) immunostaining and nucleolar organizer regions (AgNORs) staining and (iii) the expression of estrogen and progesterone receptors. We also compared disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS) with the expression of the Hsps studied. After chemotherapy, nuclear Hsp27 and Hsp70 expression was increased and Hsp70 and Hsc70 cytoplasmic expression was decreased. A high nuclear proportion of Hsp70 in tumor cells (>10%) correlated significantly with drug resistance. We also observed that patients whose tumors expressed nuclear or a high cytoplasmic proportion (>66%) of Hsp27 had shorter DFS. The combination of Hsp27 and Hsp70 levels showed a strong correlation with DFS. Neither the cellular proliferation nor the levels of steroid receptors showed any significant difference before or after drug administration or during follow-up of patients. Our results suggest that Hsp27 and Hsp70 are involved in drug resistance in breast cancer patients treated with combination chemotherapies.

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