Research Papers:

Cytokeratin 5/6 fingerprinting in HER2-positive tumors identifies a poor prognosis and trastuzumab-resistant Basal-HER2 subtype of breast cancer

Begoña Martin-Castillo _, Eugeni Lopez-Bonet, Maria Buxó, Joan Dorca, Francesc Tuca-Rodríguez, Miguel Alonso Ruano, Ramon Colomer and Javier A. Menendez

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:7104-7122. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.3106

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Begoña Martin-Castillo1,2, Eugeni Lopez-Bonet2,3, Maria Buxó2,4,5, Joan Dorca6, Francesc Tuca-Rodríguez7, Miguel Alonso Ruano7, Ramon Colomer8,9, Javier A. Menendez2,10

1Unit of Clinical Research, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

2Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI), Molecular Oncology Group, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

3Department of Anatomical Pathology, Dr. Josep Trueta Hospital of Girona, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

4Epidemiology Unit and Cancer Registry of Girona (UERCG), Catalan Cancer Plan, Catalan Health Government, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

5Department of Nursing, Universitat de Girona (UdG), Girona, Catalonia, Spain

6Medical Oncology Department, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

7Department of Gynecology, Dr. Josep Trueta Hospital of Girona, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

8Breast Cancer Clinical Research Unit, CNIO-Spanish National Cancer Research Center, Madrid, Spain

9Medical Oncology Department, Hospital La Princesa, Madrid, Spain

10Translational Research Laboratory, Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Correspondence to:

Javier A. Menendez, e-mail: [email protected], [email protected]

Keywords: Breast cancer, HER2, basal-like, trastuzumab, cytokeratins

Received: December 22, 2014     Accepted: January 08, 2015     Published: January 29, 2015


There is an urgent need to refine the prognostic taxonomy of HER2+ breast carcinomas and develop easy-to-use, clinic-based prediction algorithms to distinguish between good- and poor- responders to trastuzumab-based therapy. Building on earlier studies suggesting that HER2+ tumors enriched with molecular and morpho-immunohistochemical features classically ascribed to basal-like tumors are highly aggressive and refractory to trastuzumab, we investigated the prognostic and predictive value of the basal-HER2+ phenotype in HER2-overexpressing tumors. Our retrospective cohort study of a consecutive series of 152 HER2+ primary invasive ductal breast carcinomas first confirmed the existence of a distinct subgroup co-expressing HER2 protein and basal cytokeratin markers CK5/6, the so-called basal-HER2+ phenotype. Basal-HER2+ phenotype (≥10% of cells showing positive CK5/6 staining), but not estrogen receptor status, was significantly associated with inferior overall survival by univariate analysis and predicted worsened disease free survival after accounting for strong prognostic variables such as tumor size at diagnosis in stepwise multivariate analysis. In the sub-cohort of HER2+ patients treated with trastuzumab-based adjuvant/neoadjuvant therapy, basal-HER2+ phenotype was found to be the sole independent prognostic marker for a significantly inferior time to treatment failure in multivariate analysis. A CK5/6-based immunohistochemical fingerprint may provide a simple, rapid, and accurate method for re-classifying women diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer in a manner that can improve prognosis and therapeutic planning in patients with clinically aggressive basal-HER2+ tumors who are not likely to benefit from trastuzumab-based therapy.

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