Research Papers:

Unravelling site-specific breast cancer metastasis: a microRNA expression profiling study

Willemijne A.M.E. Schrijver, Paul J. van Diest _, Dutch Distant Breast Cancer Metastases Consortium and Cathy B. Moelans

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:3111-3123. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.13623

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Willemijne A.M.E. Schrijver1, Paul J. van Diest1, Dutch Distant Breast Cancer Metastases Consortium*, Cathy B. Moelans1

1Department of Pathology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

*Members are listed in the acknowledgement

Correspondence to:

Paul J. van Diest, email: [email protected]

Keywords: microRNA, breast cancer, metastasis, expression profiling, site-specificity

Received: June 15, 2016     Accepted: October 21, 2016     Published: November 25, 2016


Distant metastasis is still the main cause of death from breast cancer. MicroRNAs (miRs) are important regulators of many physiological and pathological processes, including metastasis. Molecular breast cancer subtypes are known to show a site-specific pattern of metastases formation. In this study, we set out to determine the underlying molecular mechanisms of site-specific breast cancer metastasis by microRNA expression profiling.

To identify a miR signature for metastatic breast carcinoma that could predict metastatic localization, we compared global miR expression in 23 primary breast cancer specimens with their corresponding multiple distant metastases to ovary (n=9), skin (n=12), lung (n=10), brain (n=4) and gastrointestinal tract (n=10) by miRCURY microRNA expression arrays. For validation, we performed quantitative real-time (qRT) PCR on the discovery cohort and on an independent validation cohort of 29 primary breast cancer specimens and their matched metastases.

miR expression was highly patient specific and miR signatures in the primary tumor were largely retained in the metastases, with the exception of several differentially expressed, location specific miRs. Validation with qPCR demonstrated that hsa-miR-106b-5p was predictive for the development of lung metastases. In time, the second metastasis often showed a miR upregulation compared to the first metastasis.

This study discovered a metastatic site-specific miR and found miR expression to be highly patient specific. This may lead to novel biomarkers predicting site of distant metastases, and to adjuvant, personalized targeted therapy strategies that could prevent such metastases from becoming clinically manifest.

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