Background: Protein levels of urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) and its inhibitor (PAI-1) determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay from fresh-frozen tumor tissue have been evaluated as prognostic factors in prospectively randomized trials in breast cancer. However, the role of uPA and PAI-1 in the context of breast cancer subtypes and for mRNA expression of these factors is less clear.
Methods: We evaluated uPA and PAI-1 mRNA expression using the Affymetrix HG-U 133A array within molecular subgroups of breast cancer in cohorts of patients with systemic treatment (cohort A, n=362) and without systemic treatment (cohort B, n=200). We validated mRNA expression in a cohort of HER2-positive breast cancer patients (cohort C, n=290). Luminal, triple-negative, and HER2-positive subcohorts were defined by ESR1 and ERBB2 mRNA expression using predefined cutoffs.
Results: In the entire cohort A, elevated PAI-1 but not uPA mRNA expression was associated with shorter disease-free survival (P=0.007 for PAI and 0.069 for uPA). Regarding different molecular subgroups, 67% (n=244) of tumors were luminal, 14% (n=49) were HER2-positive, and 19% (n=69) were triple-negative. Elevated PAI-1 mRNA expression was associated with shorter disease-free survival only in the HER2-positive subgroup (P=0.031). The same disease-free survival results were found for uPA in HER2-positive patients (P=0.011). In contrast, no association between either marker and survival was observed in the luminal or triple-negative subgroups. In the HER2-positive validation cohort C, elevated uPA and PAI-1 mRNA expression also showed strong associations with shorter disease-free survival (P=0.014 for PAI-1, P<0.001 for uPA).
Conclusion: In this study, the prognostic impact of uPA and PAI-1 expression was mainly observed in patients with HER2-positive tumors.