Open Access Research article

NILCO biomarkers in breast cancer from Chinese patients

Laronna S Colbert12, Kaamilah Wilson3, Sungjin Kim4, Yuan Liu4, Gabriela Oprea-Ilies5, Corey Gillespie3, Toi Dickson3, Gale Newman3 and Ruben Rene Gonzalez-Perez3*

Author Affiliations

1 Hematology/Oncology Section, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30310, USA

2 Current address: Department of Hematology/Oncology, Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Decatur, GA 30033, USA

3 Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Immunology, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30310, USA

4 Department of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Winship Cancer Institute, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

5 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Grady Campus, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30032, USA

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:249  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-249

Published: 9 April 2014



Notch, IL-1 and leptin are known pro-angiogenic factors linked to breast cancer development, tumor aggressiveness and poor prognosis. A complex crosstalk between these molecules (NILCO) has been reported in breast cancer cell lines. However, whether NILCO biomarkers are differentially expressed in estrogen responsive (ER+), unresponsive (ER-) and triple negative (TNBC) breast cancer tissues is unknown.


Expression levels of nine NILCO and targets [Notch1, Notch4, JAG1, DLL4, VEGF, VEGFR2 (FLK-1), leptin, leptin receptor (OB-R) and interleukin-1 receptor type I (IL-1R tI)] were examined via immunohistochemistry in breast cancer tissue microarrays from Chinese patients (ER+, n=33; ER-, n=21; TNBC, n=13) and non-malignant breast tissue (n=5; Pantomics, Inc.) using a semi-quantitative analysis of intensity staining, HSCORE.


Categorical expression of NILCO and targets (+ or -) was similar among all cancer tissues. However, TNBC showed differential localization pattern of NILCO. TNBC showed fewer nuclei and cytoplasms positive for Notch4 and JAG1, but more cytoplasms positive for leptin. In addition, fewer TNBC stromas were positive for Notch1 and Notch4, but 100% of TNBC stromas were positive for VEGFR2. Moreover, TNBC had lower DLL4 and IL-1R tI expression. TNBC and ER- showed higher expression of EGFR, but lower expression of AR. Leptin and OB-R were detected in more than 61% of samples. Leptin positively correlated to OB-R, JAG1, VEGF, and marginally to IL-1R tI. Notch1 positively correlated to IL-1R tI. EGFR and Ki67 were positively associated to Notch1, but no associations of NILCO and targets with p53 were found.


Present data suggest that NILCO components are differentially expressed in breast cancer. TNBC showed distinctive patterns for NILCO expression and localization. The complex crosstalk between leptin, IL-1 and Notch could differentially drive breast cancer growth and angiogenesis. Furthermore, the analysis of NILCO and targets using Pathway Studio9 software (Ariadine Genomics) showed multiple molecular relationships that suggest NILCO has potential prognostic biomarker value in breast cancer.