Background: A subgroup of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-rearranged lung tumours can respond to ALK inhibitors. Until now, the ALK status in circulating tumour cells (CTCs) isolated from patients with lung cancer has not been characterised. We assessed the ALK status in CTCs detected in patients with lung cancer and correlated the results to the ALK status defined in the corresponding tumour tissue.
Patients and methods: A total of 87 patients with lung adenocarcinoma showing CTCs isolated using the isolation by size of epithelial tumour cell method were screened for their ALK status both in tumour samples and in CTCs. ALK break-apart fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) and immunoreactivity analyses using an anti-ALK antibody (5A4 clone) were carried out on CTCs and compared with the results obtained in the corresponding tissue specimens.
Results: A total of five patients showed ALK-gene rearrangement and strong ALK protein expression in CTCs and in the corresponding tumour samples. Both ALK-FISH and ALK immunoreactivity analyses show negative results in CTCs and corresponding tumour samples for 82 patients. Conclusions We demonstrated that the ALK status can be determined in CTCs isolated from patients with lung cancer by immunocytochemistry and FISH analyses. These results favour non-invasive, ALK-gene status pre-screening on a routine basis on CTCs isolated from patients with lung cancer and open new avenues for real-time monitoring for adapted targeted therapy.