Identification and clinical validation of a multigene assay that interrogates the biology of cancer stem cells and predicts metastasis in breast cancer: A retrospective consecutive study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Breast cancers show variations in the number and biological aggressiveness of cancer stem cells that correlate with their clinico-prognostic and molecular heterogeneity. Thus, prognostic stratification of breast cancers based on cancer stem cells might help guide patient management. Methods: We derived a 20-gene stem cell signature from the transcriptional profile of normal mammary stem cells, capable of identifying breast cancers with a homogeneous profile and poor prognosis in in silico analyses. The clinical value of this signature was assessed in a prospective-retrospective cohort of 2, 453 breast cancer patients. Models for predicting individual risk of metastasis were developed from expression data of the 20 genes in patients randomly assigned to a training set, using the ridge-penalized Cox regression, and tested in an independent validation set. Findings: Analyses revealed that the 20-gene stem cell signature provided prognostic information in Triple-Negative and Luminal breast cancer patients, independently of standard clinicopathological parameters. Through functional studies in individual tumours, we correlated the risk score assigned by the signature with the proliferative and self-renewal potential of the cancer stem cell population. By retraining the 20-gene signature in Luminal patients, we derived the risk model, StemPrintER, which predicted early and late recurrence independently of standard prognostic factors. Interpretation: Our findings indicate that the 20-gene stem cell signature, by its unique ability to interrogate the biology of cancer stem cells of the primary tumour, provides a reliable estimate of metastatic risk in Triple-Negative and Luminal breast cancer patients independently of standard clinicopathological parameters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352-362
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019



  • Biomarkers
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Metastasis
  • Prognostic signatures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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