Gene expression patterns of breast carcinomas
distinguish tumor subclasses with
Therese Sørliea,b,c, Charles M. Peroua,d, Robert Tibshiranie, Turid Aasf, Stephanie Geislerg, Hilde Johnsenb, Trevor Hastiee,
Michael B. Eisenh, Matt van de Rijni, Stefanie S. Jeffreyj, Thor Thorsenk, Hanne Quistl, John C. Matesec,
Patrick O. Brownm, David Botsteinc, Per Eystein Lønningg, and Anne-Lise Børresen-Daleb,n
Departments ofbGenetics andlSurgery, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, Montebello, N-0310 Oslo, Norway;dDepartment of Genetics and Lineberger
Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; Departments ofeHealth Research and Policy and Statistics,
cGenetics,iPathology,jSurgery, andmBiochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine,
Stanford, CA 94305; Departments ofgMedicine (Section of Oncology),fSurgery, andkBiochemical Endocrinology, Haukeland
University Hospital, N-5021 Bergen, Norway; andhLife Sciences Division, Lawrence Orlando Berkeley National Laboratories,
and Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720
Contributed by David Botstein, July 17, 2001
The purpose of this study was to classify breast carcinomas based
on variations in gene expression patterns derived from cDNA
microarrays and to correlate tumor characteristics to clinical out-
come. A total of 85 cDNA microarray experiments representing 78
cancers, three fibroadenomas, and four normal breast tissues were
analyzed by hierarchical clustering. As reported previously, the
cancers could be classified into a basal epithelial-like group, an
ERBB2-overexpressing group and a normal breast-like group based
on variations in gene expression. A novel finding was that the
previously characterized luminal epithelial?estrogen receptor-
positive group could be divided into at least two subgroups, each
with a distinctive expression profile. These subtypes proved to be
a set of 456 cDNA clones previously selected to reflect intrinsic
properties of the tumors and, second, a gene set that highly
correlated with patient outcome. Survival analyses on a subcohort
of patients with locally advanced breast cancer uniformly treated
in a prospective study showed significantly different outcomes for
the patients belonging to the various groups, including a poor
prognosis for the basal-like subtype and a significant difference in
outcome for the two estrogen receptor-positive groups.
expression of steroid and growth factor receptors (3, 4), estro-
gen-inducible genes like cathepsin D (5), protooncogenes like
ERBB2 (6), and mutations in the TP53 gene (7, 8) all have been
correlated to prognosis, knowledge about individual prognostic
factors provides limited information about the biology of the
disease. Thus, because of their internal correlations in multivar-
iate analysis, the prognostic value of many of these parameters
fades away (9, 10).
the large number of genes potentially involved in controlling cell
growth, death, and differentiation emphasize the importance of
studying multiple genetic alterations in concert. Systematic
investigation of expression patterns of thousands of genes in
features of phenotypic variation, might provide the basis for an
improved taxonomy of cancer (11–14).
Recently, we reported that variations in gene expression
patterns in 40 grossly dissected human breast tumors analyzed by
cDNA microarrays and hierarchical clustering provided a dis-
tinctive ‘‘molecular portrait’’ of each tumor, and that the tumors
could be classified into subtypes based solely on differences in
these patterns (14). The present work refines our previous
classifications by analyzing a larger number of tumors and
explores the clinical value of the subtypes by searching for
he biology of breast cancer remains poorly understood.
Although lymph node metastases (1), histologic grade (2),
correlations between gene expression patterns and clinically
relevant parameters. We found that classification of tumors
based on gene expression patterns can be used as a prognostic
marker with respect to overall and relapse-free survival in a
subset of patients that had received uniform therapy. One
finding was the separation of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive
tumors into at least two distinctive groups with characteristic
gene expression profiles and different prognosis.
Materials and Methods
Patients and Tumor Specimens. A total of 78 breast carcinomas (71
ductal, five lobular, and two ductal carcinomas in situ obtained
from 77 different individuals; two independent tumors from one
individual diagnosed at different times) and three fibroadeno-
mas were analyzed in this study. These include 40 tumors that
were previously analyzed and described (14). Four normal breast
tissue samples from different individuals also were included,
three of which were pooled normal breast samples from multiple
individuals (CLONTECH). In summary, 85 tissue samples rep-
resenting 84 individuals were analyzed. Tissue samples were
snap-frozen in liquid N2and stored at ?170°C or ?80°C. All
tumor specimens analyzed contained more than 50% tumor
cells. Fifty-one of the patients were part of a prospective study
on locally advanced breast cancer (T3?T4 and?or N2 tumors)
treated with doxorubicin monotherapy before surgery followed
by adjuvant tamoxifen in the case of positive ER and?or
progesterone receptor (PgR) status (15). All but three patients
were treated with tamoxifen. ER and PgR status was determined
by using ligand-binding assays, and mutation analysis of the TP53
gene was performed as described (15). All common polymor-
phisms were recorded, but are considered wild type in this study.
A detailed list of all samples and clinical data for the patients is
on the PNAS web site, www.pnas.org.
Microarray Analysis. Total RNA was isolated by phenol-
chloroform extraction (Trizol, GIBCO?BRL), and mRNA was
purified by either magnetic separation using Dynabeads (Dy-
nal) or the Invitrogen FastTrack 2.0 Kit. All experiments and
the production of microarrays were performed as described
(14), with detailed protocols available at http:??cmgm.
Abbreviations: ER, estrogen receptor; SAM, significance analysis of microarrays.
aT.S. and C.M.P. contributed equally to this work.
nTo whom reprint requests should be addressed. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The publication costs of this article were defrayed in part by page charge payment. This
article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C.
§1734 solely to indicate this fact.
September 11, 2001 ?
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no. 19 ?
molecularportraits?. Fluorescent images of hybridized microar-
rays were obtained by using a ScanArray 3000 (General
Scanning, Watertown, MA) or a GenePix 4000 (Axon Instru-
ments, Foster City, CA) scanner. The primary data tables and the
linkage hierarchical clustering was applied by using the CLUSTER
program and the results were displayed by using TREEVIEW (soft-
ware available at http:??genome-www4.stanford.edu?MicroArray?
The cDNA microarrays used in this study were from several
different print runs that all contained the same core set of 8,102
genes. In total, the 85 microarray experiments were carried out
by using six different batches of microarrays and three different
batches of common reference, each independently produced.
These variations in experimental materials produced microarray
artifacts that were readily detected in our analysis. For example,
batch CRB of the common reference was slightly deficient in the
fibroblast-like cell line Hs578T, and hence, all samples that were
analyzed by comparison to the CRB batch showed slightly
elevated levels of most stromal cell genes on average (data not
shown). Notwithstanding these known artifacts, mathematical
searches for genes that correlated with outcome using the SAM
(significance analysis of microarrays) algorithm (16) identified a
set of genes, which were not influenced by these experimental
artifacts. As described (14), the identification and selection of
the intrinsic set of genes was based on a set of data collected with
the same print run of microarrays and by using the same batch
of common reference samples, and hence, it was not influenced
by these experimental artifacts.
The 456 cDNA clones (427 unique genes) in the intrinsic gene
list that formed the basis for the classification initially were
selected from the 8,102 genes to include those with significantly
greater variation in expression between different tumors than
between paired samples from the same tumor (14). This subset
of genes therefore should represent inherent properties of the
tumors themselves rather than just differences between different
Statistical Analysis. We applied a recently described analytical
patient survival. A total of 1,753 genes were used for this
analysis, which represents all of the genes whose expression
varied by at least 4-fold from the median red?green ratio in at
least three or more of the samples included in the previously
described sample set of 84 microarrays?40 breast tumor samples
the strength of its correlation with survival. This score is the
maximum-likelihood score statistic from Cox’s proportional
hazards model. When the score is negative, higher expression
that higher expression correlates with shorter survival. A thresh-
old value was chosen to give a reasonably low false positive rate,
as estimated by repeatedly permuting the survival times and
counting the number of genes that were called significant at each
Cluster analysis and classifications were based on the total set
of 78 malignant breast tumors. For the survival analyses, we used
the subgroup of 49 patients (of the 51) with locally advanced
tumors and no distant metastases (two of the 51 patients from
this prospective study were retrospectively recorded to have a
minor lung deposit and a liver metastasis, respectively) who were
treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy and adjuvant tamoxifen
according to a prospective protocol (15). Kaplan–Meier plots
were calculated by using WINSTAT EXCEL plug-in software from
R. Fitch Software (http:??www.winstat.com?). Median
follow-up time was 66 months. Deaths due to causes other than
breast cancer were treated as censored observations.
Results and Discussion
Identification of Tumor Subtypes by Hierarchical Clustering. Using
the intrinsic gene set of 456 cDNA clones, selected to optimally
identify the intrinsic characteristics of breast tumors, the 78
carcinomas and seven nonmalignant breast samples were ana-
lyzed by hierarchical clustering (17) (Figs. 1A and 4, which is
tumors were separated into two main branches. The left branch
contained three subgroups previously defined (14). These
groups all were characterized by low to absent gene expression
of the ER and several additional transcriptional factors ex-
pressed in the luminal?ER? cluster. The basal-like subtype (Fig.
1A, red) was characterized by high expression of keratins 5 and
17, laminin, and fatty acid binding protein 7 (Fig. 1E), whereas
the ERBB2? subtype (Fig. 1A, pink) was characterized by high
expression of several genes in the ERBB2 amplicon at 17q22.24
including ERBB2 and GRB7 (Fig. 1C). Tumor samples included
in the normal breast-like group (Fig. 1A, green) showed the
highest expression of many genes known to be expressed by
adipose tissue and other nonepithelial cell types (Fig. 1F). These
tumors also showed strong expression of basal epithelial genes
and low expression of luminal epithelial genes.
Extension of the sample size allowed separation of the pre-
viously defined luminal?ER? group into two or possibly three
distinct subgroups (right-hand branch). The group of 32 tumors
(termed luminal subtype A, Fig. 1A, dark blue) demonstrated
the highest expression of the ER ? gene, GATA binding protein
3, X-box binding protein 1, trefoil factor 3, hepatocyte nuclear
factor 3 ?, and estrogen-regulated LIV-1 (Fig. 1G). The second
group of tumors positive for luminal-enriched genes could be
broken into two smaller units, a small group of five tumors
termed luminal subtype B (Fig. 1A, yellow) and the group of 10
tumors called luminal subtype C (Fig. 1A, light blue). Both of
these groups showed low to moderate expression of the luminal-
specific genes including the ER cluster. Luminal subtype C was
further distinguished from luminal subtypes A and B by the high
expression of a novel set of genes whose coordinated function is
unknown (Fig. 1D), which is a feature they share with the
basal-like and ERBB2? subtypes.
Robustness of the Classification. To examine the robustness of the
observed clustering patterns from the 78 heterogeneous carci-
nomas, a second hierarchical-clustering analysis was conducted
by using the intrinsic gene set and the subset of 51 carcinomas
from the single patient cohort (15), the three benign tumors, and
the four normal breast samples (Fig. 5, which is published as
supporting information). The resulting dendrogram produced
with these 58 samples resembled closely (with somewhat less
resolution, as anticipated) the dendrogram with all 85 samples
(Fig. 2). The same major subtypes were seen, except that the
position of the five luminal subtype B tumors changed from
being grouped next to luminal subtype C to being grouped next
to the ERBB2? subtype. However, the luminal subtype B
tumors do not overexpress ERBB2 (Fig. 5). These results reflect
the reality that higher-level branches of the dendrogram, which
connect samples that have lower correlation coefficients (?0.2),
To further explore the relationships inferred by the dendro-
gram branching patterns, we computed an average expression
profile for the samples contained within each of the five main
subtypes from Fig. 1A (i.e., a core subtype profile) and the
correlation of each sample to each of these five core expression
profiles. The results are displayed in Fig. 6, which is published as
supporting information, where the samples run from left to right
following their hierarchical-cluster order as displayed in Fig. 1.
www.pnas.org?cgi?doi?10.1073?pnas.191367098 Sørlie et al.
clustering using the 476 cDNA intrinsic clone set. (A) The tumor specimens were divided into five (or six) subtypes based on differences in gene expression. The
cluster dendrogram showing the five (six) subtypes of tumors are colored as: luminal subtype A, dark blue; luminal subtype B, yellow; luminal subtype C, light
blue; normal breast-like, green; basal-like, red; and ERBB2?, pink. (B) The full cluster diagram scaled down (the complete 456-clone cluster diagram is available
as Fig. 4). The colored bars on the right represent the inserts presented in C–G. (C) ERBB2 amplicon cluster. (D) Novel unknown cluster. (E) Basal epithelial
cell-enriched cluster. (F) Normal breast-like cluster. (G) Luminal epithelial gene cluster containing ER.
Sørlie et al.PNAS ?
September 11, 2001 ?
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As expected, the correlation was usually the highest with the
expression profile for the subgroup containing that sample. This
was the case for all except two samples present in the luminal
subtype A cluster. The samples that were on the most distant
dendrogram branches within any one of the five subgroups had
lower correlations to the core profile. All but one of the samples
in luminal subtype B had the lowest correlation to the combined
subtype B ? C core profile. This might explain why this set of
samples changed location when comparing the 51-tumor clus-
tering pattern to the 78-tumor clustering pattern and supports
the identity of luminal subtype B tumors as an independent
group. Hence, these data suggest that the groupings into the five
subtypes are reasonably robust with most (?75%) of the tumor
sample sets for the analysis.
TP53 Status in the Tumor Subtypes. The coding region of the TP53
gene (exons 2–11) was screened for mutations in all but 12 tumor
samples (DNA or RNA were not available from these cases)
(15). Thirty of the 69 tumors analyzed were found to harbor
mutations in the TP53 gene. The distribution of mutations is
illustrated in Fig. 2 (Upper) and showed a significant difference
in the frequency of TP53-mutated tumors among the subclasses
(P ? 0.001, two-sided). Luminal subtype A contained only 13%
mutated tumors, whereas the ERBB2? and basal-like subclasses
had 5?7 (71%) and 9?11 (82%), respectively. As the TP53 gene
mutations among the different tumor groups nevertheless points
to a significant role for this gene in determining the gene
expression patterns in the various tumor subtypes. Previous
studies have shown that mutations in the TP53 gene predict poor
Fig. 1 (85 samples) with the status of TP53 indicated by the color of the terminal dendrogram line. Red lines indicate tumors with mutated TP53 genes, green
lines wild-type TP53, and black lines samples not tested. (Lower) The experimental dendrogram from the hierarchical-clustering analysis using the 51 Norway
carcinomas, three benign tumors, and four normal breast tissues (58 samples). The subgroups are colored accordingly and show that the group of tumors
highlighted in orange changed position compared with the dendrogram from Fig. 1A. Furthermore, the basal-like tumors shown in red are inserted in between
luminal subtypes A and C. To the left are shown the correlation coefficients for the dendrogram branches.
Comparison of experimental sample-associated dendrograms from two different hierarchical clustering analyses. (Upper) Dendrogram is taken from
www.pnas.org?cgi?doi?10.1073?pnas.191367098 Sørlie et al.
prognosis and are associated with poor response to systemic
therapy (7, 8, 18, 19). Our findings of TP53 mutations in tumors
simultaneously expressing genes in the ERBB2 amplicon at high
levels supports previous observations of an interdependent role
for TP53 and ERBB2 (15, 20).
Identification of Tumor Subtypes using SAM Supervised by Patient
Survival. To search for additional sets of genes useful for tumor
classification, we performed SAM (16), using patient survival as
the supervising variable on the data set comprising the 76
carcinomas from which clinical data were available (i.e., exclud-
ing patient H6 and the second tumor in patient 65). Starting with
their expression values from the set of 1,753 genes (14), this
approach resulted in a list of 264 cDNA clones, using a signif-
icance threshold expected to produce fewer than 30 false posi-
tives. This SAM264 clone set was used to perform a hierarchical-
clustering analysis on all samples, and the resulting diagram
in this analysis fell into three main gene expression clusters, the
luminal?ER? cluster, the basal epithelial cluster that contained
keratins 5 and 17, and the previously described proliferation
cluster (Figs. 7 and 8, which are published as supporting infor-
mation). The branching patterns in the resulting dendrogram
organized the tumors into four main groups. The largest group
(Fig. 7, dark blue labels) consisted of tumors with the luminal?
ER? characteristics and corresponded almost exactly to the
amplicon from the intrinsic gene list were not included in the
SAM clone set, which resulted in a merging of the ERBB2?
subtype with the basal-like tumors into a larger group (Fig. 7, red
and pink sample names); notably, all but one of the basal-like
tumors clustered together on a distal branch within this larger
group. The luminal subtype C and the normal breast-like group
were seen, whereas the luminal subtype B samples were spilt
between subtypes A and C. In conclusion, 71 of 78 carcinomas
were organized into the same main subtypes when using the list
of 264 survival-correlated cDNA clones as compared with using
the intrinsic set of 456 clones (with only 81 genes overlap).
Correlations to Clinical Outcome. To investigate whether the five
different groups identified by hierarchical clustering may rep-
resent clinically distinct subgroups of patients, univariate sur-
vival analyses comparing the subtypes with respect to overall
survival and relapse-free survival were performed (Fig. 3). For
all of the following analyses, only 49 of the patients from the
prospective study with locally advanced disease and with no
distant metastases were used (see Statistical Analysis section).
Including the two patients with minor metastases did not influ-
ence the outcome of the survival analysis. The Kaplan–Meier
curves based on the subclasses from Fig. 1 showed a highly
significant difference in overall survival between the subtypes
(Fig. 3A, P ? 0.01), with the basal-like and ERBB2? subtypes
associated with the shortest survival times. Similar results were
obtained with respect to relapse-free survival (Fig. 3B). These
two tumor subtypes were characterized by distinct variations in
gene expression that were different from the luminal subtype
tumors. Overexpression of the ERBB2 oncoprotein is a well-
known prognostic factor associated with poor survival in breast
cancer, which also was found for the ERBB2? group defined in
this study. The basal-like subtype may represent a different
clinical entity that is associated with shorter survival times and
a high frequency of TP53 mutations. Interestingly, the two
deaths among the T1?T2 tumors (new york 2, new york 3)
withdrawn from the data set for the purpose of the survival
analysis, occurred in this subgroup of tumors; both harbored
mutations in the TP53 gene.
We observed a difference in outcome for tumors classified as
luminal A versus luminal B ? C. Whereas the ER protein value
B and C were considered one group). (C) Overall survival estimated for the six-subtype classification with the three different luminal subtypes presented in Fig.
1. (D) Overall survival based on the five-subtype classification presented in Figs. 2 Lower and 5.
Overall and relapse-free survival analysis of the 49 breast cancer patients, uniformly treated in a prospective study, based on different gene expression
Sørlie et al. PNAS ?
September 11, 2001 ?
vol. 98 ?
no. 19 ?
(determined by ligand binding) differed between the two groups
high values (9 ? 100 fmol?mg; 5, 30–100 fmol?mg; 4, 10–30
fmol?mg; 1 ? 10 fmol?mg). It also should be noted that the ER?
protein category cases based on ligand binding were highly
heterogeneous with respect to their gene expression profiles
(18?19 were in luminal A, 5?5 in luminal B, 9?10 in luminal C,
2?7 in basal-like, 4?5 in ERBB2?, and 3?5 in normal breast-like
tumors). The luminal subtype B ? C tumors might represent a
clinically distinct group with a different and worse disease
course, in particular with respect to relapse (Fig. 3 A and B).
Luminal subtype C was associated with the worst outcome of the
three presumed subtypes when a six-subtype classification
formed the basis for the survival analysis (Fig. 3C). The potential
clinical significance of this molecular subtype is highlighted by
the similarities in expression of some of the genes that are
characteristic of the ER-negative tumors in the basal-like and
ERBB2? subtypes (Fig. 1D), which suggests that the high level
of expression of this set of genes is associated with poor disease
outcomes. The difference in outcome between the different
subgroups was confirmed in a subanalysis based on the five
subgroups identified when using the intrinsic gene list and only
the 51 Norway carcinomas (Figs. 2 and 5), as seen in Fig. 3D.
The genomewide expression patterns of tumors are a repre-
sentation of the biology of the tumors; the diversity in patterns
reflects biological diversity. Thus, relating gene expression pat-
terns to clinical outcomes is a key issue in understanding this
diversity. Although many parameters have been explored in
relation to breast cancer biology and outcome, the finding that
patients with tumors expressing the ER have a relatively favor-
able prognosis, despite the fact that estradiol is a highly potent
mitogen in receptor-positive cells, underlines the problems of
correlating different parameters and extrapolating knowledge
about the biological function of a single factor from its prog-
nostic value. The ability to classify tumors into distinct entities
by identifying recurrent gene expression patterns of hundreds or
thousands of genes would further enable identification of com-
binations of marker genes that otherwise would be unrecognized
by standard methods and help to get a deeper understanding of
the function of gene interplay. In this article we have provided
evidence for a relationship between five expression-based sub-
classes of breast tumors and patient outcome. Of particular
interest is the finding that ER? tumors may be subclassified into
distinct subgroups with different outcomes. Furthermore, these
studies set the stage for a larger and more elaborate study in
which many additional breast tumors need to be examined and
combined with detailed clinical information, which then will
provide a means for identifying expression motifs that represent
important clinical phenotypes, like resistance and sensitivity to
specific therapies, invasiveness, or metastatic potential.
We are grateful to the National Cancer Institute, the Norwegian
Research Council, the Norwegian Cancer Society, and the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute who provided support for this research. T.S. is
a postdoctoral fellow of the Norwegian Cancer Society. P.O.B. is an
Associate Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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