Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Human breast cancer associated fibroblasts exhibit subtype specific gene expression profiles

Julia Tchou1*, Andrew V Kossenkov2, Lisa Chang2, Celine Satija1, Meenhard Herlyn2, Louise C Showe2 and Ellen Puré2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, Division of Endocrine and Oncologic Surgery, Rena Rowan Breast Center, Abramson Cancer Center, Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA

2 The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, PA

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Medical Genomics 2012, 5:39  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-5-39

Published: 6 September 2012



Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease for which prognosis and treatment strategies are largely governed by the receptor status (estrogen, progesterone and Her2) of the tumor cells. Gene expression profiling of whole breast tumors further stratifies breast cancer into several molecular subtypes which also co-segregate with the receptor status of the tumor cells. We postulated that cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs) within the tumor stroma may exhibit subtype specific gene expression profiles and thus contribute to the biology of the disease in a subtype specific manner. Several studies have reported gene expression profile differences between CAFs and normal breast fibroblasts but in none of these studies were the results stratified based on tumor subtypes.


To address whether gene expression in breast cancer associated fibroblasts varies between breast cancer subtypes, we compared the gene expression profiles of early passage primary CAFs isolated from twenty human breast cancer samples representing three main subtypes; seven ER+, seven triple negative (TNBC) and six Her2+.


We observed significant expression differences between CAFs derived from Her2+ breast cancer and CAFs from TNBC and ER + cancers, particularly in pathways associated with cytoskeleton and integrin signaling. In the case of Her2+ breast cancer, the signaling pathways found to be selectively up regulated in CAFs likely contribute to the enhanced migration of breast cancer cells in transwell assays and may contribute to the unfavorable prognosis of Her2+ breast cancer.


These data demonstrate that in addition to the distinct molecular profiles that characterize the neoplastic cells, CAF gene expression is also differentially regulated in distinct subtypes of breast cancer.