BACKGROUND: In vitro studies have shown that amplification and overexpression of the cyclin D1 gene can accelerate the progress of cells through the G1 phase. Therefore, cyclin D1 may have an apoptosis inhibiting effect. The retinoblastoma (Rb) gene was shown recently to be an important regulator of apoptosis. AIMS: To evaluate whether expression of the cyclin D1 and Rb genes correlated with apoptotic counts in a group of 97 invasive breast cancers. METHODS: Expression of the cyclin D1 and Rb genes was detected by standard immunnohistochemistry using paraffin wax embedded sections. Apoptotic cells were counted according to a strict protocol, in 10 fields of vision systematically spread over the most poorly differentiated area of the tumour, at a magnification of x630. Apoptotic cells counts were expressed as apoptotic cells/mm2. RESULTS: Cyclin D1 overexpression was found in 49% of cases. Loss of Rb expression was found in 44% of cases, and occurred particularly in poorly differentiated tumours. Cyclin D1 and Rb expression showed a positive correlation (p = 0.003). Apoptotic counts varied from 1 to 62/mm2. There were no significant correlations between cyclin D1 overexpression and apoptotic counts in the total group or in the retinoblastoma protein (pRb) positive tumours. Loss of Rb expression also showed no correlation with apoptotic counts. CONCLUSIONS: Cyclin D1 is frequently overexpressed in pRb positive tumours, but no evidence has been found for an anti-apoptotic effect of cyclin D1 overexpression or Rb expression in invasive breast cancer.
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