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Mod Pathol. 2009 Apr;22(4):508-15. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2009.2. Epub 2009 Feb 20.

EML4-ALK lung cancers are characterized by rare other mutations, a TTF-1 cell lineage, an acinar histology, and young onset.

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Division of Pathology, The Cancer Institute, Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan.


A subset of lung cancers harbors a small inversion within chromosome 2p, giving rise to a transforming fusion gene, EML4-ALK (echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like 4 gene and the anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene), which encodes an activated tyrosine kinase. We have earlier examined the presence of EML4-ALK by multiplex reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in 363 specimens of lung cancer, identifying 11 adenocarcinoma cases featuring the fusion gene. In this study, we clinicopathologically examined the characteristics of the EML4-ALK-positive cases, including the mutation status of EGFR, KRAS, and TP53, and whether they were of thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1) cell lineage or not. Of 11 patients, 4 (36%) with EML4-ALK-positive lung adenocarcinomas who were below 50 years of age were affected by these diseases, as compared with 12 of 242 patients (5.0%) with EML4-ALK-negative lung adenocarcinomas (P=0.00038). EML4-ALK-positive lung adenocarcinomas were characterized by less-differentiated grade (P=0.0082) and acinar-predominant structure (P<0.0001) in histology. Furthermore, the presence of EML4-ALK appears to be mutually exclusive for EGFR and KRAS mutations (P=0.00018), whereas coexisting with TP53 mutations at a low frequency (1/11=9.1%), and correlating with non- or light smoking (P=0.040), in line with the TTF-1 immunoreactivity. Thus, EML4-ALK-positive tumors may form a distinct entity among lung adenocarcinomas, characterized by young onset, acinar histology, no or rare mutations in EGFR, KRAS, and TP53, and a TTF-1 cell lineage, all in agreement with the prevalence in non- or light smokers.

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