Purpose: MMP9 is a matricellular protein associated with extracellular matrix (ECM) remodelling, that promotes tumour progression, and modulates the activity of cell adhesion molecules and cytokines. This study aims to assess the prognostic value of MMP9 and its association with cytoskeletal modulators in early-stage invasive breast cancer (BC).
Methods: MMP9 expression was evaluated by immunohistochemistry using a well-characterised series of primary BC patients with long-term clinical follow-up. Association with clinicopathological factors, patient outcome and ECM remodelling BC-biomarkers were investigated. METABRIC dataset, BC-GenExMiner v4.0 and TCGA were used for the external validation of MMP9 expression. GSEA gene enrichment analyses were used to evaluate MMP9 associated pathways.
Results: MMP9 immunopositivity was observed in the stroma and cytoplasm of BC cells. Elevated MMP9 protein levels was associated with high tumour grade, high Nottingham Prognostic Index, and hormonal receptor negativity. Elevated MMP9 protein expression correlated significantly with cytokeratin 17 (Ck17), Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR), proliferation (Ki67) biomarkers, cell surface adhesion receptor (CD44) and cell division control protein 42 (CDC42). Cytoplasmic MMP9 expression was an independent prognostic factor associated with shorter BC-specific survival. In the external validation cohorts, MMP9 expression was also associated with poor patients’ outcome. Transcriptomic analysis confirmed a positive association between MMP9 and ECM remodelling biomarkers. GSEA analysis supports MMP9 association with ECM and cytoskeletal pathways.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence for the prognostic value of MMP9 in BC. Further functional studies to decipher the role of MMP9 and its association with cytoskeletal modulators in BC progression are warranted.