Aims: Smooth muscle actin (SMA) positive myofibroblasts have been implicated in tumour invasion; however, acquisition of SMA is not limited to peritumorous fibroblasts and other changes in fibroblasts may be more specifically related to the malignant environment. CD34 is a sialomucin expressed by normal breast fibroblasts but lost in invasive carcinomas. The aim of this study was to establish the relation between CD34 and SMA expression in breast fibroblasts and to analyse whether loss of CD34 is specific for invasive disease.
Methods: Immunohistochemistry for CD34 and SMA was performed on 135 cases including 10 normal, 10 fibroadenomas, 40 infiltrating ductal carcinomas, 55 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), and 20 radial scar/complex sclerosing lesions. The relation between staining pattern and histopathological features was recorded as positive, negative, or reduced.
Results: Fibroblasts around all normal duct–lobule units and those showing epithelial hyperplasia were CD34 positive and mainly SMA negative. In fibroadenomas, fibroblasts retained CD34 but acquired SMA expression. In contrast, fibroblasts around invasive carcinoma were CD34 positive and SMA negative. In DCIS, loss of CD34 was significantly more frequent in high grade tumours than in low or intermediate grade ones (p < 0.001). The acquisition of SMA was seen more frequently than the loss of CD34, particularly in non-high grade DCIS. In all radial scars, fibroblasts were SMA positive but CD34 negative, and a similar pattern was seen in stromal cells in areas of fibrosis following core biopsy.
Conclusions: These results show that SMA positive myofibroblasts exhibit variable expression of CD34, indicating that these markers are not coordinately controlled. Loss of CD34 is strongly related to the malignant phenotype, in both invasive and preinvasive disease, but is not entirely specific because radial scar fibroblasts and fibroblasts in reactive fibrosis exhibit a similar phenotype. The functional relevance of altered CD34 expression is unclear but the very focal changes implicate local signalling mechanisms probably of epithelial origin.
- ADH, atypical ductal hyperplasia
- DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ
- HPSC, haemopoietic stem/progenitor cell
- HUT, usual type epithelial hyperplasia
- IDC, infiltrating ductal carcinoma
- LCIS, lobular carcinoma in situ
- MMP, matrix metalloproteinase
- SMA, smooth muscle actin
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