Amplification of HER2 is a marker for global genomic instability

Rachel E. Ellsworth*, Darrell L. Ellsworth, Heather L. Patney, Brenda Deyarmin, Brad Love, Jeffrey A. Hooke, Craig D. Shriver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Background: Genomic alterations of the proto-oncogene c-erbB-2 (HER-2/ neu) are associated with aggressive behavior and poor prognosis in patients with breast cancer. The variable clinical outcomes seen in patients with similar HER2 status, given similar treatments, suggests that the effects of amplification of HER2 can be influenced by other genetic changes. To assess the broader genomic implications of structural changes at the HER2 locus, we investigated relationships between genomic instability and HER2 status in patients with invasive breast cancer. Methods: HER2 status was determined using the PathVysion® assay. DNA was extracted after laser microdissection from the 181 paraffin-embedded HER2 amplified (n = 39) or HER2 negative (n = 142) tumor specimens with sufficient tumor available to perform molecular analysis. Allelic imbalance (AI) was assessed using a panel of microsatellite markers representing 26 chromosomal regions commonly altered in breast cancer. Student t-tests and partial correlations were used to investigate relationships between genomic instability and HER2 status. Results: The frequency of AI was significantly higher (P < 0.005) in HER2 amplified (27%) compared to HER2 negative tumors (19%). Samples with HER2 amplification showed significantly higher levels of AI (P < 0.05) at chromosomes 11q23, 16q22-q24 and 18q21. Partial correlations including ER status and tumor grade supported associations between HER2 status and alterations at 11q13.1, 16q22-q24 and 18q21. Conclusion: The poor prognosis associated with HER2 amplification may be attributed to global genomic instability as cells with high frequencies of chromosomal alterations have been associated with increased cellular proliferation and aggressive behavior. In addition, high levels of DNA damage may render tumor cells refractory to treatment. In addition, specific alterations at chromosomes 11q13, 16q22-q24, and 18q21, all of which have been associated with aggressive tumor behavior, may serve as genetic modifiers to HER2 amplification. These data not only improve our understanding of HER in breast pathogenesis but may allow more accurate risk profiles and better treatment options to be developed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number297
JournalBMC Cancer
StatePublished - 14 Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes


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