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J Clin Oncol. 2013 Jun 20;31(18):2273-81. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.44.5932. Epub 2013 May 13.

Detection of circulating tumor cells harboring a unique ALK rearrangement in ALK-positive non-small-cell lung cancer.

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Institut de Cancérologie Gustave Roussy, Villejuif, France.



The diagnostic test for ALK rearrangement in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) for crizotinib treatment is currently done on tumor biopsies or fine-needle aspirations. We evaluated whether ALK rearrangement diagnosis could be performed by using circulating tumor cells (CTCs).


The presence of an ALK rearrangement was examined in CTCs of 18 ALK-positive and 14 ALK-negative patients by using a filtration enrichment technique and filter-adapted fluorescent in situ hybridization (FA-FISH), a FISH method optimized for filters. ALK-rearrangement patterns were determined in CTCs and compared with those present in tumor biopsies. ALK-rearranged CTCs and tumor specimens were characterized for epithelial (cytokeratins, E-cadherin) and mesenchymal (vimentin, N-cadherin) marker expression. ALK-rearranged CTCs were monitored in five patients treated with crizotinib.


All ALK-positive patients had four or more ALK-rearranged CTCs per 1 mL of blood (median, nine CTCs per 1 mL; range, four to 34 CTCs per 1 mL). No or only one ALK-rearranged CTC (median, one per 1 mL; range, zero to one per 1 mL) was detected in ALK-negative patients. ALK-rearranged CTCs harbored a unique (3'5') split pattern, and heterogeneous patterns (3'5', only 3') of splits were present in tumors. ALK-rearranged CTCs expressed a mesenchymal phenotype contrasting with heterogeneous epithelial and mesenchymal marker expressions in tumors. Variations in ALK-rearranged CTC levels were detected in patients being treated with crizotinib.


ALK rearrangement can be detected in CTCs of patients with ALK-positive NSCLC by using a filtration technique and FA-FISH, enabling both diagnostic testing and monitoring of crizotinib treatment. Our results suggest that CTCs harboring a unique ALK rearrangement and mesenchymal phenotype may arise from clonal selection of tumor cells that have acquired the potential to drive metastatic progression of ALK-positive NSCLC.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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