Original study| Volume 13, ISSUE 5, P401-408, October 2013

Retinoic Acid Receptor Alpha Amplifications and Retinoic Acid Sensitivity in Breast Cancers



      Molecular segmentation of breast cancer allows identification of small groups of patients who present high sensitivity to targeted agents. A patient, with chemo- and trastuzumab-resistant HER2-overexpressing breast cancer, who presented concomitant acute promyelocytic leukemia, showed a response in her breast lesions to retinoic acid, arsenic, and aracytin. We therefore investigated whether RARA gene amplification could be associated with sensitivity to retinoic acid derivatives in breast cancers.

      Materials and Methods

      Array comparative genomic hybridization and gene expression arrays were used to characterize RARA amplifications and expression in 103 breast cancer samples. In vitro activity of ATRA was characterized in T47D, SKBR3, and BT474 cell lines.


      Retinoic acid receptor alpha was gained or amplified in 27% of HER2-positive and 13% of HER2-negative breast cancer samples. Retinoic acid receptor alpha can be coamplified with HER2. Retinoic acid receptor alpha copy number changes could be correlated with messenger RNA expression. All-trans-retinoic acid reduced cell viability of RARA-amplified, but not RARA-normal, cell lines through apoptosis. Gene expression arrays showed that ATRA-induced apoptosis in RARA-amplified cell lines was related to an increase in CASP1 and IRF1.


      The results of this study suggest that breast cancers exhibiting RARA amplifications could be sensitive to retinoic acid. A phase II trial will evaluate this hypothesis in the clinical setting.


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