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06.02.2019 | Epidemiology | Ausgabe 1/2019

Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 1/2019

Immune microenvironment of triple-negative breast cancer in African-American and Caucasian women

Breast Cancer Research and Treatment > Ausgabe 1/2019
Tess O’Meara, Anton Safonov, David Casadevall, Tao Qing, Andrea Silber, Brigid Killelea, Christos Hatzis, Lajos Pusztai
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10549-019-05156-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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African-American (AA) patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) are less likely to achieve pathologic complete response from neoadjuvant chemotherapy and have poorer prognosis than Caucasian patients with TNBC, suggesting potential biological differences by race. Immune infiltration is the most consistent predictive marker for chemotherapy response and improved prognosis in TNBC. In this study, we test the hypothesis that the immune microenvironment differs between AA and Caucasian patients.


RNA-seq expression data were obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database for 162 AA and 697 Caucasian breast cancers. Estrogen receptor (ER)-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2)-positive, and TNBC subtypes were included in the analyses. Tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) counts, immunomodulatory scores, and molecular subtypes were obtained from prior publications for a subset of the TNBC cases. Differences in immune cell distributions and immune functions, measured through gene expression and TIL counts, as well as neoantigen, somatic mutation, amplification, and deletion loads, were compared by race and tumor subtype.


Immune metagene analysis demonstrated marginal immune attenuation in AA TNBC relative to Caucasian TNBC that did not reach statistical significance. The distributions of immune cell populations, lymphocyte infiltration, molecular subtypes, and genomic aberrations between AA and Caucasian subtypes were also not significantly different. The MHC1 metagene demonstrated increased expression in AA ER-positive cancers relative to Caucasian ER-positive cancers.


This study suggests that the immunological differences between AA and Caucasian breast cancers represented by TCGA data are subtle, if they exist at all. We observed no consistent racial differences in immune gene expression or TIL counts in TNBC by race. However, this study cannot rule out small differences in immune cell subtype distribution and activity status that may not be apparent in bulk RNA analysis.

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