Increased expression of osteonectin and osteopontin, two bone matrix proteins, in human breast cancer

Author(s): Bellahcène A, Castronovo V


Microcalcifications are a common phenomenon associated with breast cancer and are often the only mammographic sign of a malignant breast disease. Although microcalcifications are not restricted to breast cancer and can be also associated with benign lesions, it is noteworthy that they are composed exclusively of hydroxyapatite in breast carcinoma. Hydroxyapatite is the bone-associated phosphocalcic crystal the deposition of which in bone tissue requires the coordinated expression of several molecules such as osteonectin (OSN) and osteopontin (OPN), synthesized by cells of the osteoblastic lineage. In this study, we evaluated the expression of these two bone matrix proteins, using an immunoperoxidase technique and specific antibodies, in 79 breast lesions including 28 benign and 51 cancerous specimens. We found that normal mammary tissue associated with the lesions examined expressed generally undetectable or lightly detectable (0 or 1+) amounts of OSN and OPN (92 and 81%, respectively). Benign breast lesions, including fibroadenoma and fibrocystic dysplasia, were generally weakly stained (0 or 1+) with both anti-OSN and anti-OPN antibodies (96.4 and 60.7%, respectively). Interestingly, the majority of both in situ and invasive breast carcinoma lesions showed a strong expression (2+ or 3+) for OSN or OPN (74.5 and 84.3%, respectively). High expression of these two bone matrix proteins was associated with frequent microcalcification deposition in the lesion. This study is the first extensive study of OSN and OPN expression in mammary cancers. Our data suggest that OSN and OPN could play a role in the formation of ectopic microcalcifications often associated with breast cancer. It is also tempting to speculate that the expression of these two glycoproteins by breast cancer cells play a role in the preferred bone homing of breast metastases.

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