The androgen receptor (AR) has potential clinical relevance in metastatic breast cancer (mBC) since it might be a treatment target and has been associated with endocrine resistance. A minimal-invasive way to determine AR expression on metastatic tumor cells is by characterization of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). Here, we assessed AR mRNA expression in CTCs (CTC-AR) and in matched primary tumor samples from mBC patients representing different breast cancer subtypes. In addition, we explored CTC-AR-status in relation to outcome on endocrine therapy. AR, and 92 AR or estrogen receptor (ER) related genes, were measured in CellSearch-enriched CTCs from 124 mBC patients and in 52 matched FFPE primary tissues using quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR. AR in CTCs was considered positive if the expression was 1 standard deviation higher than the expression measured in 11 healthy blood donors. A total of 31% of the mBC patients had AR-positive (AR+) CTCs. 58% of the matched CTC and primary tumor samples were discordant with respect to AR status, observing both switches from AR+ to AR-negative (AR-) and vice versa. There was no statistically significant difference in progression-free survival for patients treated with ER-targeting drugs and CTC-AR-status (13 AR+/ 37 AR- cases, p = 0.28). Thus, AR can be determined in RNA isolated from CTCs, with in our set 31% AR-positive samples. Given the discordance between AR status in CTC samples and corresponding primary tumors, determination of AR expression in CTCs might be a promising tool to select mBC patients for AR inhibiting agents.

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Keywords androgen receptor, circulating tumor cells, CTCs, metastatic breast cancer, biomarker
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Journal International Journal of Cancer
Kruijff, I.E, de, Sieuwerts, A.M, Onstenk, W, Jager, A, Hamberg, A.P, de Jongh, FE, … Sleijfer, S. (2019). Androgen receptor expression in circulating tumor cells of patients with metastatic breast cancer. International Journal of Cancer, 145(4), 1083–1089. doi:10.1002/ijc.32209