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Clinical relevance of ErbB-2/HER2 nuclear expression in breast cancer

Roxana Schillaci1, Pablo Guzmán2, Florencia Cayrol1, Wendy Beguelin1, María C Díaz Flaqué1, Cecilia J Proietti1, Viviana Pineda3, Jorge Palazzi4, Isabel Frahm5, Eduardo H Charreau1, Esteban Maronna5, Juan C Roa2 and Patricia V Elizalde16*

Author Affiliations

1 Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental (IBYME), CONICET, Buenos Aires, Argentina

2 Departamento de Anatomía Patológica (BIOREN) y, Universidad de La Frontera, Temuco, Chile

3 Departamento de Cirugía, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de La Frontera, Temuco, Chile

4 Universidad Abierta Interamericana (UAI), Rosario, Argentina

5 Servicio de Patología, Sanatorio Mater Dei, Buenos Aires, Argentina

6 Laboratory of Molecular Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis, Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental (IBYME), Obligado 2490, Buenos Aires 1428, Argentina

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:74  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-74

Published: 22 February 2012



The biological relevance of nuclear ErbB-2/HER2 (NuclErbB-2) presence in breast tumors remains unexplored. In this study we assessed the clinical significance of ErbB-2 nuclear localization in primary invasive breast cancer. The reporting recommendations for tumor marker prognostic studies (REMARK) guidelines were used as reference.


Tissue microarrays from a cohort of 273 primary invasive breast carcinomas from women living in Chile, a Latin American country, were examined for membrane (MembErbB-2) and NuclErbB-2 expression by an immunofluorescence (IF) protocol we developed. ErbB-2 expression was also evaluated by immunohistochemistry (IHC) with a series of antibodies. Correlation between NuclErbB-2 and MembErbB-2, and between NuclErbB-2 and clinicopathological characteristics of tumors was studied. The prognostic value of NuclErbB-2 in overall survival (OS) was evaluated using Kaplan-Meier method, and Cox model was used to explore NuclErbB-2 as independent prognostic factor for OS.


The IF protocol we developed showed significantly higher sensitivity for detection of NuclErbB-2 than IHC procedures, while its specificity and sensitivity to detect MembErbB-2 were comparable to those of IHC procedures. We found 33.6% NuclErbB-2 positivity, 14.2% MembErbB-2 overexpression by IF, and 13.0% MembErbB-2 prevalence by IHC in our cohort. We identified NuclErbB-2 positivity as a significant independent predictor of worse OS in patients with MembErbB-2 overexpression. NuclErbB-2 was also a biomarker of lower OS in tumors that overexpress MembErbB-2 and lack steroid hormone receptors.


We revealed a novel role for NuclErbB-2 as an independent prognostic factor of poor clinical outcome in MembErbB-2-positive breast tumors. Our work indicates that patients presenting NuclErbB-2 may need new therapeutic strategies involving specific blockage of ErbB-2 nuclear migration.