Molecular characterization of circulating tumour cells identifies predictive markers for outcome in primary, triple-negative breast cancer patients

mRNA profiles of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) were analysed in patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) (pts) before (BT) and after therapy (AT) to identify additional treatment options. 2 × 5 mL blood of 51 TNBC pts and 24 non-TNBC pts (HR+/HER2−; HR−/HER2+) was analysed for CTCs using the AdnaTest EMT-2/Stem Cell Select™, followed by mRNA isolation and cDNA analysis for 17 genes by qPCR PIK3CA, AKT2, MTOR and the resistance marker AURKA and ERCC1 were predominantly expressed in all breast cancer subtypes, the latter ones especially AT. In TNBC pts, ERBB3, EGFR, SRC, NOTCH, ALK and AR were uniquely present and ERBB2+/ERBB3 + CTCs were found BT and AT in about 20% of cases. EGFR+/ERBB2+/ERBB3 + CTCs BT and ERBB2+/ERBB3 + CTCs AT significantly correlated with a shorter progression-free survival (PFS; P = 0.01 and P = 0.02). Platinum-based therapy resulted in a reduced PFS (P = 0.02) and an induction of PIK3CA expression in CTCs AT. In non-TNBC pts, BT, the expression pattern in CTCs was similar. AURKA+/ERCC1 + CTCs were found in 40% of HR−/HER2 + pts BT and AT. In the latter group, NOTCH, PARP1 and SRC1 were only present AT and ERBB2 + CTCs completely disappeared AT. These findings might help to predict personalized therapy for TNBC pts in the future.


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