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Ann Surg. 1999 Oct;230(4):501-9; discussion 509-11.

Sequential accumulation of K-ras mutations and p53 overexpression in the progression of pancreatic mucinous cystic neoplasms to malignancy.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.



Pancreatic mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs) provide a spectrum of neoplastic changes ranging from benign to malignant. The authors have correlated K-ras mutations and p53 overexpression with the evolution of these tumors.


Areas of mild, moderate, or severe dysplasia were microdissected from paraffin-embedded tissue sections of 28 different MCNs (10 benign, 9 borderline, 9 malignant). Nonneoplastic pancreatic ducts were also microdissected from tissues adjacent to the tumors. Ten serous cystadenomas served as negative controls. K-ras codon 12 mutations were identified by a mutant-enriched nested polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism assay and confirmed by sequencing. p53 overexpression was demonstrated by immunohistochemistry.


K-ras mutations were detected in 20% of benign, 33% of borderline, and 89% of malignant MCNs. Histologically, mutations were found in 26% (7/27) of MCN epithelia with mild dysplasia, 38% (5/13) of MCN epithelia with moderate dysplasia, and 89% (8/9) of MCN epithelia with severe dysplasia or carcinoma. Ten percent (4/39) of nonneoplastic pancreatic ducts at the margins of MCN harbored mutations, all associated with borderline or malignant tumors. Overexpression of p53 occurred in none of the benign or borderline MCNs but in 44% (4/9) of the malignant tumors (p = 0.006 benign/borderline vs. malignant). p53 immunoreactivity was concentrated in areas of severe dysplasia/carcinoma or invasion, where K-ras mutation had been detected.


These findings demonstrate a sequential accumulation of genetic changes in the carcinogenesis of MCN. K-ras mutations appear early and increase in proportion with increasing dysplasia. Overexpression of p53 is a late finding observed only in carcinomas, and in combination with mutated K-ras genes. The presence of K-ras mutations in nonneoplastic ducts supports formal pancreatic resection over enucleation for treatment. Mucinous cystic neoplasms may be a useful model to study the evolution of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas, in which precursor lesions remain unknown.

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