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Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5(1):82-96. doi:10.7150/ijbs.5.82

Research Paper

Aberrant p63 and WT-1 expression in myoepithelial cells of pregnancy-associated breast cancer: implications for tumor aggressiveness and invasiveness

Zheli Xu1, Wan Wang1, Chu-Xia Deng2, Yan-gao Man3 ✉

1. Department of Thyroid and Breast Surgery, China-Japan Union Hospital, Jilin University, Changchun, Jilin, China;
2. Mammalian Genetics Section, GDDB, NIDDK, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA;
3. Department of Gynecologic and Breast Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and American Registry of Pathology, Washington DC, USA


Our recent studies revealed that focal alterations in breast myoepithelial cell layers significantly impact the biological presentation of associated epithelial cells. As pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC) has a significantly more aggressive clinical course and mortality rate than other forms of breast malignancies, our current study compared tumor suppressor expression in myoepithelial cells of PABC and non-PABC, to determine whether myoepithelial cells of PABC may have aberrant expression of tumor suppressors. Tissue sections from 20 cases of PABC and 20 cases of stage, grade, and age matched non-PABC were subjected to immunohistochemistry, and the expression of tumor suppressor maspin, p63, and Wilms' tumor 1 (WT-1) in calponin positive myoepithelial cells were statistically compared. The expression profiles of maspin, p63, and WT-1 in myoepithelial cells of all ducts encountered were similar between PABC and non-PABC. PABC, however, displayed several unique alterations in terminal duct and lobular units (TDLU), acini, and associated tumor tissues that were not seen in those of non-PABC, which included the absence of p63 and WT-1 expression in a vast majority of the myoepithelial cells, cytoplasmic localization of p63 in the entire epithelial cell population of some lobules, and substantially increasing WT-1 expression in vascular structures of the invasive cancer component. All or nearly all epithelial cells with aberrant p63 and WT-1 expression lacked the expression of estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor, whereas they had a substantially higher proliferation index than their counterparts with p63 and WT-1 expression. Hyperplastic cells with cytoplasmic p63 expression often adjacent to, and share a similar immunohistochemical and cytological profile with, invasive cancer cells. To our best knowledge, our main finings have not been previously reported. Our findings suggest that the functional status of myoepithelial cells may be significantly associated with tumor aggressiveness and invasiveness.

Keywords: Pregnancy-associated breast cancer, myoepithelial cells, p63, WT-1, tumor stem cells.

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How to cite this article:
Xu Z, Wang W, Deng CX, Man Yg. Aberrant p63 and WT-1 expression in myoepithelial cells of pregnancy-associated breast cancer: implications for tumor aggressiveness and invasiveness. Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5(1):82-96. doi:10.7150/ijbs.5.82. Available from