Purpose: The diversity of biological functions makes p21Cip1/WAF1 (p21) a controversial marker in predicting the prognosis of breast cancer patients. Recent laboratory studies revealed that the regulation of p21 function could be related to different subcellular localizations of p21 by Akt-induced phosphorylation at threonine 145 in HER2/neu-overexpressing breast cancer cells. The purpose of this study was to verify these findings in clinical settings.
Experimental Design: The expression status of the key biological markers in the HER2/neu-Akt-p21 pathway in 130 breast cancer specimens was evaluated by immunohistochemical staining and correlated with patients? clinical parameters and survival. In addition, an antibody against phospho-p21 at threonine 145 [phospho-p21 (T145)] was also used for better validation of these findings.
Results: Cytoplasmic localization of p21 is highly correlated with overexpression of phospho-p21 (T145). Both cytoplasmic p21 and overexpression of phospho-p21 (T145) are associated with high expression of HER2/neu and phospho-Akt. Cytoplasmic localization of p21 and overexpression of phospho-p21 (T145), HER2/neu, and phospho-Akt are all associated with worse overall survival. Multivariate analysis of the Cox proportional hazard regression model revealed that cytoplasmic p21 and overexpression of HER2/neu are independently associated with increased risk of death. Combining these two factors stratified patients? survival into four distinct groups, with a 5-year survival rate of 79% in low HER2/neu and negative/nuclear p21 patients, 60% in high HER2/neu and negative/nuclear p21 patients, 29% in low HER2/neu and cytoplasmic p21 patients, and 16% in high HER2/neu and cytoplasmic p21 patients.
Conclusions: The present study, in addition to supporting the mechanisms of p21 regulation derived from laboratory investigation, demonstrates the prognostic importance of phospho-p21 (T145) for the first time and also provides a novel combination of p21 and HER2/neu for better stratification of patients? survival than any single clinicopathological or biological marker that may play important diagnostic and therapeutic roles for breast cancer patients.