Patients with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer are usually receiving an anti-estrogen therapy by either aromatase inhibitors or selective estrogen receptor mediators such as tamoxifen. Nevertheless, acquired resistance to tamoxifen under treatment frequently hampers therapy. One proposed explanation for this phenomenon is the interaction of the tumor cells with cells of the tumor microenvironment via the Insulin-like growth factor RNA binding protein 5/B-cell lymphoma 3 (IGFBP5/BCL3) axis. Here we investigated whether a high expression of BCL3 either cytoplasmic or nuclear is associated with the occurrence of a relapse under anti-estrogen therapy in patients. Formaldehyde-fixed, paraffin-embedded samples of 180 breast cancer patients were analyzed for BCL3 expression by immunohistochemistry. An immunoreactive score (IRS) was calculated from staining intensity in cytoplasm and nucleus as well as the percentage of positive tumor cells. These scores were correlated with clinico-pathological parameters using cross-tabulation analysis and patients' relapse free and overall survival by Kaplan-Meier analysis and Cox regression. A tamoxifen-adapted MCF-7 derived cell line was investigated for BCL3 localization by immunofluorescence. The cytosolic BCL3-IRS significantly correlated with the proliferation marker Ki-67, and with the occurrence of a relapse under tamoxifen treatment. Nuclear score correlated only with tamoxifen-relapse. In survival analysis, both scores were highly significant prognostic factors for relapse free, but not for overall survival. This was especially obvious for estrogen receptor positive and HER2/NEU negative cases as well as lobular breast cancer. Tamoxifen-treated, but not aromatase-treated patients had a poor survival when BCL3 scores were high. A tamoxifen adapted cell line exhibited a reduced expression and mainly nuclear localization of BCL3, compared to the parental estrogen receptor positive cell-line MCF-7. Altogether, these data strongly support a function of BCL3 in tamoxifen resistance and its potential use as a predictive biomarker for tamoxifen resistance.
Virchows Arch (Virchows Archiv : an international journal of pathology)
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