Coexpression patterns of vimentin and glial filament protein with cytokeratins in the normal, hyperplastic, and neoplastic breast

Victor E. Gould, George K. Koukoulis, Desiree S. Jansson, Raymond B. Nagle, Werner W. Franke, Roland Moll

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The authors studied by immunohistochemistry the intermediate filament (IF) protein profile of 66 frozen samples of breast tissue, including normal parenchyma, all variants of fibrocystic disease (FCD), fibroadenomas, cystosarcoma phylloides, and ductal and lobular carcinomas. Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) to cytokeratins included MAb KA 1, which binds to polypeptide 5 in a complex with polypeptide 14 and recognizes preferentially myoepithelial cells; MAb KA4, which binds to polypeptides 14, 15, 16 and 19; individual MAbs to polypeptides 7, 13, and 16, 17, 18, and 19, and the MAb mixture AE1/AE3. The authors also applied three MAbs to vimentin (Vim), and three MAbs to glial filament protein (GFP). Selected samples were studied by double-label immunofluorescence microscopy and by staining sequential sections with some of the said MAbs, an MAb to alpha-smooth muscle actin, and well-characterized polyclonal antibodies for the possible coexpression of diverse types of cytoskeletal proteins. Gel electrophoresis and immunoblot analysis also were performed. All samples reacted for cytokeratins with MAbs AE1/AE3, although the reaction did not involve all cells. Monoclonal antibody KA4 stained preferentially the luminal-secretory cells in the normal breast and in FCD, whereas it stained the vast majority of cells in all carcinomas. Monoclonal antibody KA1 stained preferentially the basal-myoepithelial cells of the normal breast and FCD while staining tumor cell subpopulations in 4 of 31 carcinomas. Vimentin-positive cells were found in 8 of 12 normal breasts and in 12 of 20 FCD; in most cases, Vim-reactive cells appeared to be myoepithelial, but occasional luminal cells were also stained. Variable subpopulations of Vim-positive cells were noted in 9 of 20 ductal and in 1 of 7 lobular carcinomas. Glial filament protein-reactive cells were found in normal breast lobules and ducts and in 15 of 20 cases of FCD; with rare exceptions, GFP-reactivity was restricted to basally located, myoepithelial-appearing cells. Occasional GFP-reactive cells were found in 3 of 31 carcinomas. Evaluation of sequential sections and double-label immunofluorescence microscopy showed the coexpression of certain cytokeratins (possibly including polypeptides 14 and 17) with vimentin and alpha-smooth muscle actin together with GFP in some myoepithelial cells. The presence of GFP in myoepithelial cells was confirmed by gel electrophoresis and immunoblotting. Our results indicate that coexpression of cytokeratin with vimentin and/or GFP is comparatively frequent in normal basal-myoepithelial cells of the breast. This IF profile is retained in various forms of FCD and benign breast neoplasms, often with an increase in GFP expression. In breast carcinomas, cytokeratin-vimentin coexpression is rather frequent but, with rare exceptions, restricted to a rather small subpopulation, whereas cytokeratin-GFP coexpression is distinctly uncommon. The biologic significance of cells in the normal, hyperplastic, and neoplastic breast that coexpress cytokeratins with vimentin and GFP remains unclear. Future studies may clarify also whether the subsets of FCD and breast carcinomas that coexpress cytokeratins with vimentin and/or GFP differ clinically from those that only express cytokeratins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1143-1155
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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