Key words RT/PCR
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract Tumor cell dissemination in the bone marrow is an independent prognostic marker for relapse and survival for patients with primary breast cancer. Parathyroid-hormone-related protein (PTHrP) is expressed in most primary tumors and bone metastases of patients with breast cancer. PTHrP acts as an autocrine growth factor for breast cancer cells in vitro and there is evidence that it is especially important for osseous metastasis. For a sensitive detection of PTHrP-positive disseminated tumor cells a reverse transcriptase/polymerase chain reaction (RT/PCR) assay for PTHrP transcripts in the peripheral blood (PB) and in the bone marrow (BM) has been established. In mixing studies, the sensitivity of the reverse transcriptase/polymerase chain reaction (RT/PCR) for PTHrP was one tumor cell in 1 × 106 mononuclear cells. At this level of sensitivity, transcripts of PTHrP were detected in none of 30 PB samples and in 3 of 25 BM samples of healthy volunteers; there were also no transcripts of PTHrP in the PB and BM of 6 patients with benign breast lesions. The PB samples of 31 patients and the BM samples of 34 patients with predominantly early-stage breast cancer were tested for PTHrP expression along with immunocytology against cytokeratin 18 (CK18) as a standard immunological detection technique. PTHrP expression was shown in 9 of 31 patients in the PB and in 9 of 34 patients in the BM. In 30 patients, PB and BM samples were available simultaneously. There were cases of combined positive findings in the PB and the BM (4/30) and of isolated positivity in the PB (5/30) or in the BM (4/30). Compared to immunocytology, RT/PCR assay of PTHrP assay was significantly more sensitive in the peripheral blood (8/30 by RT/PCR compared to 1/30 by immunocytology). In the bone marrow there were cases of positivity for both markers (2/34), cases of isolated positivity by immunocytology for CK18 (3/34) and cases of isolated positivity for PTHrP transcripts (7/34). In conclusion the RT/PCR assay for PTHrP transcripts is a feasible and very sensitive technique for the detection of tumor cell dissemination in the PB, even in patients with early-stage breast cancer. The specificity of detection of PTHrP transcripts in the bone marrow is limited, possibly because of autochthonous expression of PTHrP in osteoblastic cells. The clinical follow-up of the subgroups of patients at risk, as defined by this assay, will show its prognostic significance for patients with breast cancer.
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