Tumor co-expression of progranulin and sortilin as a prognostic biomarker in breast cancer

Karoline Berger, Sara Rhost, Svanheiður Rafnsdóttir, Éamon Hughes, Ylva Magnusson, Maria Ekholm, Olle Stål, Lisa Rydén, Göran Landberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The growth factor progranulin has been implicated in numerous biological processes such as wound healing, inflammation and progressive tumorigenesis. Both progranulin and its receptor sortilin are known to be highly expressed in subgroups of breast cancer and have been associated with various clinical properties including tamoxifen resistance. Recent data further suggest that progranulin, via its receptor sortilin, drives breast cancer stem cell propagation in vitro and increases metastasis formation in an in vivo breast cancer xenograft model. In this retrospective biomarker analysis, we aimed to determine whether tumor co-expression of progranulin and sortilin has prognostic and treatment predictive values for breast cancer patients. Methods: We explored how co-expression of progranulin and sortilin was associated with established clinical markers by analyzing a tissue microarray including 560 randomized premenopausal breast cancer patients receiving either 2 years of tamoxifen treatment or no adjuvant treatment, with a median follow-up time of 28 years. Breast cancer-specific survival was analyzed using Kaplan-Meier and Cox Proportional Hazards regression models to assess the prognostic and predictive value of progranulin and sortilin in relation to known clinical markers. Results: Co-expression of progranulin and sortilin was observed in 20% of the breast cancer samples. In untreated patients, prognostic considerations could be detailed separately from treatment prediction and the high progranulin and sortilin expressing subgroup was significantly associated with breast cancer-specific death in multivariable analyses (HR=2.188, CI: 1.317–3.637, p=0.003) along with tumor size, high tumor grade and lymph node positivity. When comparing the untreated patients with tamoxifen treated patients in the ERα positive subgroup, co-expression of progranulin and sortilin was not linked to tamoxifen resistance. Conclusion: Data suggest that co-expression of progranulin and its receptor sortilin is a novel prognostic biomarker combination identifying a highly malignant subgroup of breast cancer. Importantly, this subpopulation could potentially be targeted with anti-sortilin based therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number185
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cancer and Oncology


  • Biomarker
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Predictive
  • Prognostic
  • Progranulin
  • Sortilin
  • Tamoxifen
  • Targeted therapy


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