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High tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes correlate with distinct gene expression profile and favourable survival in single hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

INTRODUCTION: This study aimed to evaluate the impact of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) on the expression of immune-related genes and prognosis in single hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Material and methods: Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes were analysed according to the guidelines of the International TILs Working Group in a cohort of 206 patients with single hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Of these, 44.7% were classified as ER+/PgR-/HER2-, 18.4% as ER+/PgR-/HER2+, 26.2% as ER-/PgR+/HER2-, and 10.7% as ER-/PgR+/HER2+. Moreover, in 52 samples the analysis of gene expression profiling was performed using nCounter technology.

RESULTS: Most cases (74.3%) showed at least 1% of stromal TILs, with a median of 4%, mean of 16.3%, and interquartile range of 0-20%. ER-/PgR+ tumours displayed significantly higher TILs density than ER+/PgR- cases (p < 0.001, Wilcoxon test), regardless of HER2 status. The abundance of TILs was positively associated with ER-/PgR+ phenotype, higher Ki-67, and higher grade, but not with age, tumour size, or regional and distant metastases at diagnosis. Additionally, in ER+/PgR- subgroup higher TILs were associated with HER2-positive status. Stromal TILs > 5% were associated with better survival in the whole group, but this effect was less prominent in ER-/PgR+ patients. We identified 50 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between single hormone receptor-positive breast tumours with high and low TILs, including 39 up-regulated and 11 down-regulated genes in the high TILs group.

CONCLUSIONS: The up-regulated expression of immune-related genes was consistent also among separately analysed single hormone receptor-positive groups (ER+/PgR- and ER-/PgR+).

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