Prognostic and functional role of subtype-specific tumor–stroma interaction in breast cancer

Giuseppe Merlino, Patrizia Miodini, Maurizio Callari, Francesca D'Aiuto, Vera Cappelletti, Maria Grazia Daidone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


None of the clinically relevant gene expression signatures available for breast cancer were specifically developed to capture the influence of the microenvironment on tumor cells. Here, we attempted to build subtype-specific signatures derived from an in vitro model reproducing tumor cell modifications after interaction with activated or normal stromal cells. Gene expression signatures derived from HER2+, luminal, and basal breast cancer cell lines (treated by normal fibroblasts or cancer-associated fibroblasts conditioned media) were evaluated in clinical tumors by in silico analysis on published gene expression profiles (GEPs). Patients were classified as microenvironment-positive (μENV+ve), that is, with tumors showing molecular profiles suggesting activation by the stroma, or microenvironment-negative (μENV−ve) based on correlation of their tumors' GEP with the respective subtype-specific signature. Patients with estrogen receptor alpha (ER)+/HER2−/μENV+ve tumors were characterized by 2.5-fold higher risk of developing distant metastases (HR = 2.546; 95% CI: 1.751–3.701, P = 9.84E-07), while μENV status did not affect, or only suggested the risk of distant metastases, in women with HER2+ (HR = 1.541; 95% CI: 0.788–3.012, P = 0.206) or ER-/HER2− tumors (HR = 1.894; 95% CI: 0.938–3.824; P = 0.0747), respectively. In ER+/HER2− tumors, the μENV status remained significantly associated with metastatic progression (HR = 2.098; CI: 1.214–3.624; P = 0.00791) in multivariable analysis including size, age, and Genomic Grade Index. Validity of our in vitro model was also supported by in vitro biological endpoints such as cell growth (MTT assay) and migration/invasion (Transwell assay). In vitro-derived gene signatures tracing the bidirectional interaction with cancer activated fibroblasts are subtype-specific and add independent prognostic information to classical prognostic variables in women with ER+/HER2− tumors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1399-1412
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Oncology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2017


  • breast cancer
  • gene expression profiling
  • microenvironment
  • prognosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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