Pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal stromal tumors

J Gastroenterol. 2005 Aug;40(8):775-80. doi: 10.1007/s00535-005-1674-0.


Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are the most common mesenchymal tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. Activating mutations of KIT or the platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha gene (PDGFRA) have been identified in the vast majority of GISTs. The respective oncoproteins exhibit constitutive tyrosine kinase activity and promote cell growth. KIT and PDGFRA mutations are rarely found in GISTs in patients with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) suggesting that the pathogenesis of GIST in NF1 patients is different from that in non-NF1 patients. Endoscopic diagnosis of GIST is usually difficult. Endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS)-guided fine-needle aspiration biopsy (EUS-FNAB) is a useful method for the diagnosis of GIST and for the detection of KIT or PDGFRA mutations. Imatinib mesylate, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor known to inhibit the activities of BCR-ABL, KIT, and PDGFR, is currently being used for the treatment of both chronic myeloid leukemia and metastatic GIST. The clinical response to imatinib therapy correlates with the types of mutations of KIT and PDGFRA, and the determination of KIT and PDGFRA mutations is useful for predicting the effect of imatinib. Resistance to imatinib after an initial response has been reported; secondary point mutations in KIT or PDGFRA that confer imatinib resistance are the most common mechanisms responsible for acquired resistance to imatinib. The continued development of target-specific therapies should increase the probability of cure in most patients with GISTs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / diagnosis
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / therapy
  • Humans