HER-2 is a transmembrane growth factor receptor recognized in overexpression as an independent adverse prognostic factor in several cancers. This study measured HER-2 overexpression in pancreatic adenocarcinoma at the genetic, transcriptional, and translational level. Expression was gauged with regard to stage, grade, and survival. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma samples (n = 30) were analyzed with immunohistochemical labeling for HER-2 protein, Quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (Q-RT-PCR) measurement of HER-2 mRNA and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis of HER-2 gene expression. HER-2 expression in benign pancreatic lesions (n = 10) provided a control. Five (17%) of the pancreatic adenocarcinomas scored maximal 3+ immunohistochemistry (IHC) labeling, seven (23%) had significantly increased expression of HER-2 mRNA, while only one (3%) exhibited low level HER-2 gene amplification. Ten (33%) tumors demonstrated aneuploidy. In general, concordance between methodologies was poor, but the best agreement was seen between FISH aneuploidy status and Q-RT-PCR mRNA overexpression (80% agreement), followed by IHC and Q-RT-PCR (73% agreement). The least agreement was seen between IHC and FISH aneuploidy status (67% agreement). Tumor stage was positively associated with HER-2 mRNA and protein expression, but tumor grade and other patient characteristics did not reach statistical significance. A poor survival outcome was demonstrated with positive HER-2 status in all three measures of overexpression (Kaplan-Meier log-rank score; P < 0.01 [IHC], P = 0.05 [Q-RT-PCR], P = 0.02 [FISH]). Discordance in expression at the nuclear, cytoplasmic, and cell surface levels highlights the limitations of immunohistochemical evaluation alone and stresses the need for further evaluation of response to anti-HER-2 targeted therapies in tumors displaying overexpression in gene copy, mRNA, and receptor protein.
From the *University of Sydney, Department of Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital; †Department of Anatomical Pathology, Royal North Shore Hospital; and ‡Department of Anatomical Pathology, St. Vincents Hospital, Sydney, Australia.
Supported by the Cancer Surgery Research Foundation, CanSur (Research Support Grant) and Roche Pharmaceuticals (contributed to costs of FISH testing only).
Reprints: Ross C. Smith, FRACS, University of Sydney, Department of Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital, St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia, NSW 2065 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).