Cyclin E expression is associated with high levels of replication stress in triple-negative breast cancer

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Sergi Guerrero Llobet, Bert van der Vegt, Evelien Jongeneel, Rico D. Bense, Mieke C. Zwager, Carolien P. Schröder, Marieke Everts, Rudolf S. N. Fehrmann, Geertruida H. de Bock & Marcel A. T. M. van Vugt.


Replication stress entails the improper progression of DNA replication. In cancer cells, including breast cancer cells, an important cause of replication stress is oncogene activation. Importantly, tumors with high levels of replication stress may have different clinical behavior, and high levels of replication stress appear to be a vulnerability of cancer cells, which may be therapeutically targeted by novel molecularly targeted agents. Unfortunately, data on replication stress is largely based on experimental models. Further investigation of replication stress in clinical samples is required to optimally implement novel therapeutics. To uncover the relation between oncogene expression, replication stress, and clinical features of breast cancer subgroups, we immunohistochemically analyzed the expression of a panel of oncogenes (Cyclin E, c-Myc, and Cdc25A,) and markers of replication stress (phospho-Ser33-RPA32 and γ-H2AX) in breast tumor tissues prior to treatment (n = 384). Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) exhibited the highest levels of phospho-Ser33-RPA32 (P < 0.001 for all tests) and γ-H2AX (P < 0.05 for all tests). Moreover, expression levels of Cyclin E (P < 0.001 for all tests) and c-Myc (P < 0.001 for all tests) were highest in TNBCs. Expression of Cyclin E positively correlated with phospho-RPA32 (Spearman correlation r = 0.37, P < 0.001) and γ-H2AX (Spearman correlation r = 0.63, P < 0.001). Combined, these data indicate that, among breast cancers, replication stress is predominantly observed in TNBCs, and is associated with expression levels of Cyclin E. These results indicate that Cyclin E overexpression may be used as a biomarker for patient selection in the clinical evaluation of drugs that target the DNA replication stress response.