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13-11-2017 | Breast cancer | Article

Association between gene expression profile of the primary tumor and chemotherapy response of metastatic breast cancer

BMC Cancer

Authors: Cemile Dilara Savci-Heijink, Hans Halfwerk, Jan Koster, Marc Joan Van de Vijver

Publisher: BioMed Central



To better predict the likelihood of response to chemotherapy, we have conducted a study comparing the gene expression patterns of primary tumours with their corresponding response to systemic chemotherapy in the metastatic setting.


mRNA expression profiles of breast carcinomas of patients that later developed distant metastases were analyzed using supervised and non-supervised classification techniques to identify predictors of response to chemotherapy. The top differentially expressed genes between the responders and non-responders were identified and further explored. An independent dataset which was generated to predict response to neo-adjuvant CT was utilized for the purpose of validation. Response to chemotherapy was also correlated to the clinicopathologic characteristics, molecular subtypes, metastatic behavior and survival outcomes.


Anthracycline containing regimens were the most common first line treatment (58.4%), followed by non-anthracycline/non-taxane containing (25.8%) and taxane containing (15.7%) regimens. Response was achieved in 41.6% of the patients to the first line CT and in 21.8% to second line CT. Response was not found to be significantly correlated to tumour type, grade, lymph node status, ER and PR status. Patients with HER2+ tumours showed better response to anthracycline containing therapy (p: 0.002). Response to first and second line chemotherapy did not differ among gene expression based molecular subtypes (p: 0.236 and p: 0.20). Using supervised classification, a 14 gene response classifier was identified. This 14-gene predictor could successfully predict the likelihood of better response to first and second line CT (p: <.0001 and p: 0.761, respectively) in the training set. However, the predictive value of this gene set in data of response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy could not be validated.


To our knowledge, this is the first study revealing the relation between gene expression profiles of the primary tumours and their chemotherapy responsiveness in the metastatic setting. In contrast to the findings for neoadjuvant chemotherapy treatment, there was no association of molecular subtype with response to chemotherapy in the metastatic setting. Using supervised classification, we identified a classifier of chemotherapy response; however, we could not validate this classifier using neoadjuvant response data.

Trial registration

Non applicable. Subjects were retrospectively registered.

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