The aim of this study was to identify new disease-related circulating miRNAs with high diagnostic accuracy for breast cancer (BC) and to correlate their deregulation with the morpho-functional characteristics of the tumour, as assessed in vivo by positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance (PET/MR) imaging. A total of 77 untreated female BC patients underwent same-day PET/MR and blood collection, and 78 healthy donors were recruited as negative controls. The expression profile of 84 human miRNAs was screened by using miRNA PCR arrays and validated by real-time PCR. The validated miRNAs were correlated with the quantitative imaging parameters extracted from the primary BC samples. Circulating miR-125b-5p and miR-143-3p were upregulated in BC plasma and able to discriminate BC patients from healthy subjects (miR-125-5p area under the receiver operating characteristic ROC curve (AUC) = 0.85 and miR-143-3p AUC = 0.80). Circulating CA15-3, a soluble form of the transmembrane glycoprotein Mucin 1 (MUC-1) that is upregulated in epithelial cancer cells of different origins, was combined with miR-125b-5p and improved the diagnostic accuracy from 70% (CA15-3 alone) to 89% (CA15-3 plus miR-125b-5p). MiR-143-3p showed a strong and significant correlation with the stage of the disease, apparent diffusion coefficient (ADCmean
), reverse efflux volume transfer constant (Kepmean
) and maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax
), and it might represent a biomarker of tumour aggressiveness. Similarly, miR-125b-5p was correlated with stage and grade 2 but inversely correlated with the forward volume transfer constant (Ktransmean
) and proliferation index (Ki67), suggesting a potential role as a biomarker of a relatively more favourable prognosis. In situ hybridization (ISH) experiments revealed that miR-143-3p was expressed in endothelial tumour cells, miR-125-5p in cancer-associated fibroblasts, and neither in epithelial tumour cells. Our results suggested that miR-125-5p and miR-143-3p are potential biomarkers for the risk stratification of BC, and Kaplan-Maier plots confirmed this hypothesis. In addition, the combined use of miR-125-b-5p and CA15-3 enhanced the diagnostic accuracy up to 89%. This is the first study that correlates circulating miRNAs with in vivo quantified tumour biology through PET/MR biomarkers. This integration elucidates the link between the plasmatic increase in these two potential circulating biomarkers and the biology of untreated BC. In conclusion, while miR-143-3b and miR-125b-5p provide valuable information for prognosis, a combination of miR-125b-5p with the tumour marker CA15-3 improves sensitivity for BC detection, which warrants consideration by further validation studies.
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