Introduction: Very recently, we have found a novel fusion product between the echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like4 (EML4) and the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) in non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs). Tumors featuring EML4-ALK fusion constitute one subtype of NSCLC that might be highly sensitive to ALK inhibitors. Herein, we present results of a first large scale study of EML4-ALK fusion in lung cancers.
Methods: Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction for EML4-ALK fusion mRNA, we investigated 149 lung adenocarcinomas, 48 squamous cell carcinomas, 3 large-cell neuroendocrine carcinomas, and 21 small-cell carcinomas. For EML4-ALK-positive cancers, we further investigated the presence of ALK fusion proteins by immunohistochemistry.
Results: Five of 149 adenocarcinomas (3.4%) showed EML4-ALK fusion mRNA, this being totally lacking in carcinomas of other types (0/72). In all the fusion-positive cases, ALK fusion protein could be detected in the cytoplasm immunohistochemically. The five fusion cases featured two EML4-ALK variant 1 fusions and three variant 2 fusions. Histologically, both variant 1 cases were mixed type adenocarcinomas, showing papillary with bronchioloalveolar components. Interestingly, all three variant 2 cases were acinar adenocarcinomas, the link being statistically significant (p = 0.00018). None of the five fusion-positive cases demonstrated any mutations of EGFR or KRAS, pointing to a mutually exclusive relationship (p = 0.014). There was no association with smoking habits.
Conclusions: In the present first investigation of EML4-ALK fusion in a large study of lung cancers (5/221), we found an interesting histotype-genotype relationship. Furthermore, we could detect the fusion protein by immunohistochemistry, pointing to possible clinical applications.