c-erbB-2 Expression in Breast Cancer Detected by Immunoblotting and Immunohistochemistry

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Evidence that the c-erbB-2 proto-oncogene is important in prognosis and oncogenesis in a number of human malignancies is increasing. DNA (Southern) hybridization and immunoblotting (Western) techniques are most commonly utilized to determine the amplification and protein expression of this proto-oncogene, respectively. These extraction techniques are often time consuming, costly, and subject to variability depending on the histological characteristics of the tumor. Immunohistochemistry (IHC), on the other hand, is more often time and cost effective. In addition, IHC may offer enhanced sensitivity over extraction techniques because of the in situ nature of analysis. In data presented here, 71 cases of human mammary carcinoma were concomitantly assessed for c-erbB-2 gene copy number and oncoprotein expression by dilution DNA hybridization and IHC, respectively. In 65 (92%) of 71 cases, high-level expression was associated with gene amplification, whereas moderate or low-level expression was associated with a normal diploid gene copy number. In five of the six discrepant cases, IHC predicted amplification which was not corroborated by Southern analysis. In these cases, tumor mass was limited by the intraductal component of the lesion or by an abundance of stromal elements within the specimen. In 39 of the 71 total cases, Western immunoblotting was compared with IHC in the assessment of oncoprotein expression. Concordance was found in 33 (85%) of 39 cases. In four of the six discrepant cases, high levels of c-erbB-2 expression were demonstrated by IHC but not by immunoblotting. In these cases, intraductal disease and stroma-rich tumors again led to a relative paucity of neoplastic tissue within the specimens. We conclude that IHC offers a favorable alternative to either Southern analysis or Western immunoblotting in the assessment of c-erbB-2 gene copy number and expression levels of oncoprotein in human mammary carcinoma. Furthermore, IHC may prove advantageous to either extraction technique in specimens with limited tumor mass, such as biopsy materials, stroma-rich tumors, or early stage lesions such as intraductal carcinoma.