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Axl receptor tyrosine kinase expression in breast cancer
  1. Timothy M D'Alfonso1,
  2. Jeffrey Hannah1,
  3. Zhengming Chen2,
  4. Yifang Liu1,
  5. Pengbo Zhou1,
  6. Sandra J Shin1
  1. 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, USA
  2. 2Department of Public Health, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Timothy M D'Alfonso, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College, 525 East 68th Street, Starr 1031E, New York, NY 10065, USA; tid9007{at}


Aims Triple-negative breast cancer comprises a clinically aggressive group of invasive carcinomas. We examined a published gene expression screen of a panel of breast cancer cell lines to identify a potential triple-negative breast cancer-specific gene signature, and attempted to verify our findings by performing immunohistochemical analysis on tissue microarrays containing a large cohort of invasive breast carcinomas.

Methods The microarray dataset for a panel of human breast cancer cell lines was interrogated for triple-negative breast cancer-specific genes. Membranous immunohistochemical expression of the protein product of the AXL gene was assessed semiquantitatively in 569 invasive breast carcinomas grouped according to molecular subgroup by immunohistochemistry.

Results AXL was significantly upregulated in triple-negative/basal B cell lines compared with luminal or basal A cell lines. No significant difference was observed in the level of immunohistochemical expression of Axl protein between triple-negative breast cancers and other molecular subgroups (p=0.257). Axl expression was significantly associated with lymphovascular invasion (LVI) in all subgroups combined (p=0.033), and within the luminal A (p=0.002) and triple-negative breast cancer subgroups (p=0.026).

Conclusions Despite preferential upregulation of AXL in triple-negative/basal B cell lines, analysis of Axl protein expression in a large series of patients’ breast tumours revealed no association between Axl expression and triple-negative breast cancer or other subtype. The association of Axl expression with LVI supports previous work that implicates Axl as a promoter of invasiveness in breast cancer cell lines. Further studies are necessary to explore whether Axl expression of individual breast cancer tumours can be clinically useful.

  • Breast Cancer
  • Breast Pathology
  • Tumour Markers
  • Immunohistochemistry

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