We recently showed that differential expression of extracellular matrix (ECM) genes delineates four subgroups of breast carcinomas (ECM1, -2, -3- and -4) with different clinical outcome. To further investigate the characteristics of ECM signature and its impact on tumor progression, we conducted unsupervised clustering analyses in 6 additional independent datasets of invasive breast tumors from different platforms for a total of 643 samples. Use of four different clustering algorithms identified ECM3 tumors as an independent group in all datasets tested. ECM3 showed a homogeneous gene pattern, consisting of 58 genes encoding 43 structural ECM proteins. From 26 to 41% of the cases were ECM3-enriched, and analysis of datasets relevant to gene expression in neoplastic or corresponding stromal cells showed that both stromal and breast carcinoma cells can coordinately express ECM3 genes. In in vitro experiments, β-estradiol induced ECM3 gene production in ER-positive breast carcinoma cell lines, whereas TGFβ induced upregulation of the genes leading to ECM3 gene classification, especially in ER-negative breast carcinoma cells and in fibroblasts. Multivariate analysis of distant metastasis-free survival in untreated breast tumor patients revealed a significant interaction between ECM3 and histological grade (p = 0.001). Cox models, estimated separately in grade I-II and grade III tumors, indicated a highly significant association between ECM3 and worse survival probability only in grade III tumors (HR = 3.0, 95% CI = 1.3-7.0, p = 0.0098). Gene Set Enrichment analysis of ECM3 compared to non-ECM3 tumors revealed significant enrichment of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) genes in both grade I-II and grade III subsets of ECM3 tumors. Thus, ECM3 is a robust cluster that identifies breast carcinomas with EMT features but with accelerated metastatic potential only in the undifferentiated (grade III) phenotype. These findings support the key relevance of neoplastic and stroma interaction in breast cancer progression. © 2013 Triulzi et al.
Triulzi, T., Casalini, P., Sandri, M., Ratti, M., Carcangiu, M. L., Colombo, M. P., … Tagliabue, E. (2013). Neoplastic and Stromal Cells Contribute to an Extracellular Matrix Gene Expression Profile Defining a Breast Cancer Subtype Likely to Progress. PLoS ONE, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0056761