Background: Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) exhibit high rates of recurrence and mortality. However, recent studies suggest that a subset of patients (pts) with early-stage TNBC enriched in tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) have excellent clinical outcomes even in the absence of systemic therapy. Additional histological biomarkers that could identify pts for future systemic therapy escalation/de-escalation strategies are of great interest. TNBC are frequently highly proliferative with abundant mitoses. However, classic markers of proliferation (manual mitosis counting and Ki-67) appear to offer no prognostic value. Here, we evaluated the prognostic effects of automated mitotic spindle hotspot (AMSH) counting on RFS in independent cohorts of systemically untreated early-stage TNBC.
Methods: AMSH counting was conducted with a state-of-the-art deep learning algorithm trained on the detection of mitoses within 2 mm2 areas with the highest mitotic density (i.e. hotspots) in digital H&E images. Details of the development, training and validation of the algorithm were published previously  in a cohort of unselected TNBC. We obtained AMSH counts in a centrally confirmed TNBC cohort from Mayo Clinic  and focused our analysis on pts who received locoregional therapy but no systemic therapy. Using a fractional polynomial analysis with a multivariable proportional hazards regression model, we confirmed the assumption of linearity in the log hazard for the continuous variable AMSH and evaluated whether AMSH counts were prognostic of RFS. We corroborated our findings in an independent cohort of systemically untreated TNBC pts from the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands (Radboud Cohort). Results are reported at a median follow-up of 8.1 and 6.7 years for the Mayo and Netherlands cohorts, respectively.
Results: Among 182 pts with who did not receive systemic therapy in the Mayo Cohort, 140 (77\%) with available AMSH counts were included. The mean age was 61 (range: 31-94), 71\% were postmenopausal, 67\% had tumors <= 2cm, and 83\% were node-negative. As expected, most tumors were Nottingham grade 3 (84\%) and had a high Ki-67 proliferation index (54\% with Ki-67 >30\%). Most tumors (73\%) had stromal TILs <= 30\%. The median AMSH count was 18 (IQR: 8, 42). AMSH counts were linearly associated with grade and tumor size, with the proportion of pts with grade 3 tumors and size > 2 cm increasing as the AMSH counts increased (p=0.007 and p=0.059, respectively). In a multivariate model controlling for nodal status, tumor size, and stromal TILs, AMSH counts were independently associated with RFS (p< 0.0001). For every 10-point increase in the AMSH count, we observed a 17\% increase in the risk of experiencing an RFS event (HR 1.17, 95\% CI 1.08-1.26). We corroborated our findings in the Radboud Cohort (n=126). The mean age was 68 (range: 40-96), and 81\% were node-negative. While the median AMSH count was 36 (IQR: 16-63), higher than in the Mayo Cohort (p=0.004), the prognostic impact was similar, with a significant association between AMSH count and RFS (p=0.028) in a multivariate model corrected for nodal status, tumor size, and stromal TILs. For every 10-point increase in the AMSH count in the Netherlands cohort, we observed a 9\% increase in the risk of experiencing an RFS event (HR 1.09, 95\% CI 1.01-1.17). RFS rates according to AMSH counts for both cohorts are shown in the Table.
Conclusions: AMSH counting is a new proliferation biomarker that provides prognostic value independent of nodal status, tumor size, and stromal TILs in systemically untreated early-stage TNBC. Plans are underway to evaluate AMSH counts in additional cohorts of systemically untreated TNBC, and in other disease settings such as prior to neoadjuvant systemic therapy. If validated, this biomarker should be prospectively evaluated as a potential selection biomarker in clinical trials of systemic therapy de-escalation.
Table RFS according to AMSH counts in the Mayo and Radboud Cohorts
Citation Format: Roberto A. Leon-Ferre, Jodi M. Carter, David Zahrieh, Jason P. Sinnwell, Roberto Salgado, Vera Suman, David Hillman, Judy C. Boughey, Krishna R. Kalari, Fergus J. Couch, James N. Ingle, Maschenka Balkenkohl, Francesco Ciompi, Jeroen van der Laak, Matthew P. Goetz. Mitotic spindle hotspot counting using deep learning networks is highly associated with clinical outcomes in patients with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer who did not receive systemic therapy [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 2022 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium; 2022 Dec 6-10; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2023;83(5 Suppl):Abstract nr P2-11-34.