Pathology of gastrointestinal stromal tumors

Pathol Int. 2006 Jan;56(1):1-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1827.2006.01924.x.


Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are the most common mesenchymal tumors in the gastrointestinal tract. It was found that most GIST expressed KIT, a receptor tyrosine kinase encoded by protooncogene c-kit. In normal gastrointestinal wall, KIT is expressed by interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), which are a pacemaker for autonomous gastrointestinal movement. Because both GIST and ICC are double-positive for KIT and CD34, and because familial and multiple GIST appear to develop from diffuse hyperplasia of ICC, GIST are considered to originate from ICC or their precursor cells. It was also found that approximately 90% of the sporadic GIST have somatic gain-of-function mutations of the c-kit gene, and that the patients with familial and multiple GIST have germline gain-of-function mutations of the c-kit gene. These facts strongly suggest that the c-kit gene mutations are a cause of GIST. Approximately half of the sporadic GIST without c-kit gene mutations were demonstrated to have gain-of-function mutations in platelet-derived growth factor receptor-alpha (PDGFRA) gene that encodes another receptor tyrosine kinase. Because KIT is immunohistochemically negative in a minority of GIST, especially in PDGFRA gene mutation-harboring GIST, mutational analyses of c-kit and PDGFRA genes may be required to diagnose such GIST definitely. Imatinib mesylate was developed as a selective tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It inhibits constitutive activation of mutated KIT and PDGFRA, and is now being used for KIT-positive metastatic or unresectable GIST as a molecular target drug. Confirmation of KIT expression by immunohistochemistry is necessary for application of the drug. The effect of imatinib mesylate is different in various types of c-kit and PDGFRA gene mutations, and the secondary resistance against imatinib mesylate is often acquired by the second mutation of the identical genes. Mutational analyses of c-kit and PDGFRA genes are also significant for prediction of effectiveness of drugs including newly developed agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Benzamides
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / drug therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors* / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / cytology
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Imatinib Mesylate
  • Models, Biological
  • Piperazines / therapeutic use
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / metabolism*
  • Pyrimidines / therapeutic use
  • Receptor, Platelet-Derived Growth Factor alpha / genetics
  • Receptor, Platelet-Derived Growth Factor alpha / metabolism*
  • Stromal Cells


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzamides
  • Piperazines
  • Pyrimidines
  • Imatinib Mesylate
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit
  • Receptor, Platelet-Derived Growth Factor alpha