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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2004 Jan;83(2):119-28.

Altered expression and activation of the nerve growth factor receptors TrkA and p75 provide the first evidence of tumor progression to effusion in breast carcinoma.

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Department of Pathology, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, University of Oslo, Montebello, Oslo, Norway.


The aim of this study was to characterize phenotypic alterations along the progression of breast carcinoma from primary tumor to pleural effusion through analysis of the expression of nerve growth factor (NGF) and its receptors phospho-TrkA (p-TrkA activated receptor) and p75. Sections from 42 malignant pleural effusions from breast cancer patients and 65 corresponding solid tumors (34 primary, 31 metastatic) were evaluated for protein expression of the activated p-TrkA receptor. The majority of lesions were additionally studied for NGF and p75 expression. Six effusions and four breast carcinoma cell lines were studied for expression of p-TrkA using immunoblotting (IB). Membrane expression of p-TrkA was high in carcinoma cells in effusions (39/42, 93%) and locoregional recurrences (12/13, 92%), with significantly lower expression in both primary tumors (14/34, 41%) and lymph node metastases (8/18, 44%), respectively (p < 0.001 for effusions vs. primary tumors; p = 0.001 for effusions vs. lymph nodes). In contrast, p75 expression was less frequent in effusions compared to both primary tumors and lymph node metastases, significantly so for the latter (p = 0.019). NGF expression was comparable at all sites, but its expression in tumor cells in effusions (7/21 cases) was limited to cases in which time to progression (TTP) to effusion occurred within 5 years or less from primary operation. In univariate analysis of survival, mean and median TTP were 6.3 and 6 years for NGF-negative effusions, compared to 3 and 4 years for NGF-positive cases (p = 0.013). IB confirmed expression of p-TrkA in five of six effusions, while all four breast cancer cell lines were p-TrkA-negative. Our data provide the first documented evidence of molecular events that occur along tumor progression of breast carcinoma from primary tumors to effusion. The almost universal expression of p-TrkA in cancer cells in effusions and late recurrences is in full agreement with our recent report linking this factor with poor prognosis in ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the rapid progression to effusion in cases showing NGF expression in tumor cells underscores the aggressive clinical behavior of tumors that are able to utilize this pathway in an autocrine manner.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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