Discordance between Immunohistochemistry and Erb-B2 Receptor Tyrosine Kinase 2 mRNA to Determine Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 Low Status for Breast Cancer Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Novel human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-directed antibody-drug conjugates have demonstrated efficacy in HER2-low expressing breast cancers, which are currently defined as those with immunohistochemistry (IHC) scores of 1+ or 2+ with a negative in situ hybridization assay. However, current HER2 testing methods are designed to identify HER2-amplified tumors with high expression levels. The true definition of HER2-low expressing breast cancers remains controversial. Using quantitative molecular analysis of breast cancers based on RNA expression, the dynamic range of HER2 expression exceeds that detected by in situ IHC approaches. Erb-B2 receptor tyrosine kinase 2 (ERBB2) mRNA expression levels across IHC groups using patient samples derived from the Tamoxifen Exemestane Adjuvant Multicenter Trial were investigated. The standardized mean differences in ERBB2 mRNA scores in log base 2 are 0.47 (95% CI, 0.36-0.57), 0.58 (95% CI, 0.26-0.70), and 0.32 (95% CI, -0.12 to 0.75) when comparing IHC 0+ without staining versus IHC 0+ with some staining, IHC 0+ with some staining versus IHC 1+, and IHC 1+ versus IHC 2+/fluorescence in situ hybridization-negative, respectively. The results showed immunohistochemical methods have a comparatively limited dynamic range for measuring HER2 protein expression. The range of expression based on RNA abundance suggests a molecular method defining HER2-low cancers may better serve the treatment decision needs of this group. Indeed, the validity of RNA abundance to identify HER2-low cancers and predict treatment response needs to be further evaluated by prospective clinical trials.


  • Xu, Keying
  • Bayani, Jane
  • Mallon, Elizabeth
  • Pond, Gregory
  • Piper, Tammy
  • Hasenburg, Annette
  • Markopoulos, Christos J
  • Dirix, Luc
  • Seynaeve, Caroline M
  • van de Velde, Cornelis JH
  • Rea, Daniel W
  • Bartlett, John MS

publication date

  • July 2022