The Ets family of transcription factors regulate expression of multiple genes involved in tumour progression. The aim of this study was to investigate the expression of Ets-1 in a large panel of human breast cancers and relate its levels to the parameters of tumour progression and metastasis. Using RT-PCR, Ets-1 mRNA was detected in 30 out of 42 (71%) fibroadenomas and 131 out of 179 (73%) primary breast carcinomas. Similarly, levels of Ets-1 mRNA were not significantly different in fibroadenomas and primary breast carcinomas. Using Western blotting, four forms of the Ets-1 protein were detected, that is, p33, p42, p51 and p52. Levels of both p51 and p52 but not p33 and p42 were present at significantly higher levels in the carcinomas compared to the fibroadenomas (for p51, P<0.007; for p52, P<0.02; Mann-Whitney U-test). Levels of p52, p51 and p33 correlated significantly with uPA protein levels (P<0.01), while only levels of p52 correlated significantly with HER-2/neu protein levels (P<0.01). Using immunohistochemistry, Ets-1 was found predominantly in tumour cells, but was also detected in some stromal cells surrounding tumour islands. We conclude that, while at the mRNA level, Ets-1 was found at similar levels in fibroadenomas and primary breast carcinomas, higher protein levels were detected in the cancers compared to the benign specimens. Since p52, p51 and p33 correlate with uPA levels, these forms of Ets-1 may play a role in breast cancer metastasis.
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