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Cancer Res. 2003 Jul 1;63(13):3708-15.

Correlating genetic aberrations with World Health Organization-defined histology and stage across the spectrum of thymomas.

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Institute of Pathology, University of Würzburg, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany.


Thymomas are thymic epithelial tumors. Because most of them are rich in nonneoplastic T-cells, recurrent genetic aberrations have been reported only in the rare, lymphocyte-poor WHO types A, B3, and C. We have now investigated virtually the whole spectrum of thymomas, including the commoner types AB and B2, microdissecting or culturing neoplastic cells from these lymphocyte-rich thymomas and applying 41 microsatellite markers covering 17 loci on 10 chromosomes. In 28 cases, comparative genomic hybridization data were available. Apart from type A, there was striking heterogeneity between thymomas. Allelic imbalances were seen in 87.3% of the 55 cases, and MSI in 9.9%. Losses of heterozygosity (LOHs) were much the commonest aberration. Overall, they were most prevalent at four regions on chromosome 6. Aberrations elsewhere, affecting mainly 8p11.21 and 7p15.3, suggested a cortical footprint because they recurred only in the thymopoietically active type AB and B thymomas. LOHs were also seen at the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) locus (5q21-22) in subsets of these thymomas, whereas combined LOHs at the APC, retinoblastoma (13q14.3), and p53 (17p13.1) loci were confined to a subset of B3 thymomas that had possibly evolved from APC-hemizygous B2 thymomas by tumor progression; indeed, thymomas combing B2 plus B3 features are common. Notably, some AB and B thymomas shared LOHs despite their nonoverlapping morphology and different clinical behavior. Finally, allelic imbalances at 8p11.21 and 16q22.1 (CDH1) were significantly more frequent in stage IV metastatic thymomas. We conclude that the WHO-defined histological thymoma types generally segregate with characteristic genetic features, type A thymomas being the most homogeneous. Many findings support the view that B2 and B3 thymomas form a continuum, with evidence of tumor progression. However, other findings imply that types A and AB are biologically distinct from the others, any potential invasiveness being severely restricted by a medullary commitment in the precursor cell undergoing neoplastic transformation.

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