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Membrane connectivity estimated by digital image analysis of HER2 immunohistochemistry is concordant with visual scoring and fluorescence in situ hybridization results: algorithm evaluation on breast cancer tissue microarrays

Aida Laurinaviciene12*, Darius Dasevicius23, Valerijus Ostapenko1, Sonata Jarmalaite4, Juozas Lazutka4 and Arvydas Laurinavicius23

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Oncology Vilnius University, Santariskiu 1, LT-08660 Vilnius, Lithuania

2 National Center of Pathology, P.Baublio 5, LT-08406 Vilnius, Lithuania

3 Faculty of Medicine, Vilnius University, M.K.Ciurlionio 21, LT-03101 Vilnius, Lithuania

4 Faculty of Natural Sciences, Vilnius University, M.K.Ciurlionio 21, LT-03101 Vilnius, Lithuania

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Diagnostic Pathology 2011, 6:87  doi:10.1186/1746-1596-6-87

Published: 23 September 2011



The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is an established biomarker for management of patients with breast cancer. While conventional testing of HER2 protein expression is based on semi-quantitative visual scoring of the immunohistochemistry (IHC) result, efforts to reduce inter-observer variation and to produce continuous estimates of the IHC data are potentiated by digital image analysis technologies.


HER2 IHC was performed on the tissue microarrays (TMAs) of 195 patients with an early ductal carcinoma of the breast. Digital images of the IHC slides were obtained by Aperio ScanScope GL Slide Scanner. Membrane connectivity algorithm (HER2-CONNECTâ„¢, Visiopharm) was used for digital image analysis (DA). A pathologist evaluated the images on the screen twice (visual evaluations: VE1 and VE2). HER2 fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) was performed on the corresponding sections of the TMAs. The agreement between the IHC HER2 scores, obtained by VE1, VE2, and DA was tested for individual TMA spots and patient's maximum TMA spot values (VE1max, VE2max, DAmax). The latter were compared with the FISH data. Correlation of the continuous variable of the membrane connectivity estimate with the FISH data was tested.


The pathologist intra-observer agreement (VE1 and VE2) on HER2 IHC score was almost perfect: kappa 0.91 (by spot) and 0.88 (by patient). The agreement between visual evaluation and digital image analysis was almost perfect at the spot level (kappa 0.86 and 0.87, with VE1 and VE2 respectively) and at the patient level (kappa 0.80 and 0.86, with VE1max and VE2max, respectively). The DA was more accurate than VE in detection of FISH-positive patients by recruiting 3 or 2 additional FISH-positive patients to the IHC score 2+ category from the IHC 0/1+ category by VE1max or VE2max, respectively. The DA continuous variable of the membrane connectivity correlated with the FISH data (HER2 and CEP17 copy numbers, and HER2/CEP17 ratio).


HER2 IHC digital image analysis based on membrane connectivity estimate was in almost perfect agreement with the visual evaluation of the pathologist and more accurate in detection of HER2 FISH-positive patients. Most immediate benefit of integrating the DA algorithm into the routine pathology HER2 testing may be obtained by alerting/reassuring pathologists of potentially misinterpreted IHC 0/1+ versus 2+ cases.

Virtual Slides

The virtual slide(s) for this article can be found here: webcite.