Distinguishing between patients with early stage, screen detected prostate cancer who must be treated from those that can be safely watched has become a major issue in prostate cancer care. Identification of molecular subtypes of prostate cancer has opened the opportunity for testing whether biomarkers that characterize these subtypes can be used as biomarkers of prognosis. Two established molecular subtypes are identified by high expression of the ERG oncoprotein, due to structural DNA alterations that encode for fusion transcripts in approximately 1/2 of prostate cancers, and over-expression of SPINK1, which is purportedly found only in ERG-negative tumors. We used a multi-institutional prostate cancer tissue microarray constructed from radical prostatectomy samples with associated detailed clinical data and with rigorous selection of recurrent and non-recurrent cases to test the prognostic value of immunohistochemistry staining results for the ERG and SPINK1 proteins. In univariate analysis, ERG positive cases (419/1067; 39%) were associated with lower patient age, pre-operative serum PSA levels, lower Gleason scores (≤3+4=7) and improved recurrence free survival (RFS). On multivariate analysis, ERG status was not correlated with RFS, disease specific survival (DSS) or overall survival (OS). High-level SPINK1 protein expression (33/1067 cases; 3%) was associated with improved RFS on univariate and multivariate Cox regression analysis. Over-expression of either protein was not associated with clinical outcome. While expression of ERG and SPINK1 proteins was inversely correlated, it was not mutually exclusive since 3 (0.28%) cases showed high expression of both. While ERG and SPINK1 appear to identify discrete molecular subtypes of prostate cancer, only high expression of SPINK1 was associated with improved clinical outcome. However, by themselves, neither ERG nor SPINK1 appear to be useful biomarkers for prognostication of early stage prostate cancer.
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