HER2 expression on tumor-derived extracellular vesicles and circulating tumor cells in metastatic breast cancer

Afroditi Nanou*, Leonie Laura Zeune, Francois Clement Bidard, Jean Yves Pierga, Leonardus Wendelinus Mathias Marie Terstappen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Tumor-derived extracellular vesicles (tdEVs) and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood of metastatic cancer patients associate with poor outcomes. In this study, we explored the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) expression on CTCs and tdEVs of metastatic breast cancer patients. Methods: Blood samples from 98 patients (CLCC-IC-2006-04 study) were originally processed with the CellSearch® system using the CTC kit and anti-HER2 as an additional marker in the staining cocktail. CTCs and tdEVs were automatically enumerated from the generated CellSearch images using the open-source ACCEPT software. Results: CTCs and tdEVs were subdivided based on their cytokeratin (CK) and HER2 phenotype into CK+HER2-, CK-HER2+, and CK+HER2+. The inclusion of anti-HER2 increased the percentage of informative samples with ≥ 1 detectable CTC from 89 to 95%. CK- CTCs and tdEVs correlated equally well with the clinical outcome as CK+ CTCs and tdEVs. Inter- and intra-patient heterogeneity was found for the CTC/tdEV phenotypes, and the presence of 2 or 3 classes of CTCs/tdEVs was associated with worse prognosis compared to a uniform CTC/tdEV phenotype present (1 class). The use of ≥ 7% HER2+CK+ tdEVs can predict HER2 expression of the tissue with 74% sensitivity and specificity using the HER2 amplification status of the primary tumor as a classification variable. Conclusions: HER2 can be detected on CTCs and tdEVs not expressing CK, and these CK- CTCs/tdEVs have similar clinical relevance to CTCs and tdEVs expressing CK. tdEVs perform better than CTCs in predicting the HER2 status of the primary tissue. CTC and tdEV heterogeneity in the blood of patients is inversely associated with overall survival.

Original languageEnglish
Article number86
JournalBreast cancer research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2020


  • CellSearch
  • Circulating tumor cells
  • HER2
  • Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2
  • Tumor-derived extracellular vesicles

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