Introduction: Polo-like kinase-1 (PLK1) is a crucial driver of cell cycle progression and its down-regulation plays an important checkpoint role in response to DNA damage. Mechanistically, this is mediated by p53 which represses PLK1 expression through chromatin remodelling. Consistent with this model, cultured cells lacking p53 fail to repress PLK1 expression. This study examined PLK1 expression, p53 mutation and clinical outcome in breast cancer.
Methods: Immunohistochemistry was performed using antibodies to PLK1, MDM2 and Ki67 on Tissue Micro-Array (TMA) slides of a cohort of 215 primary breast cancers. The TP53 gene (encoding p53) was sequenced in all tumour samples. Protein expression scored using the "Quickscore" method was compared with clinical and pathological data, including survival.
Results: Staining of PLK1 was observed in 11% of primary breast tumours and was significantly associated with the presence of TP53 mutation (P = 0.0063). Moreover, patients with both PLK1 expression and TP53 mutation showed a significantly worse survival than those with either PLK1 expression or TP53 mutation alone. There was also a close association of elevated PLK1 with triple negative tumours, considered to be poor prognosis breast cancers that generally harbour TP53 mutation. Further association was observed between elevated PLK1 levels and the major p53 negative regulator, MDM2.
Conclusions: The significant association between elevated PLK1 and TP53 mutation in women with breast cancer is consistent with escape from repression of PLK1 expression by mutant p53. Tumours expressing elevated PLK1, but lacking functional p53, may be potential targets for novel anti-PLK1-targeted drugs.