Introduction: Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) could represent a non-invasive source of cancer cells used for longitudinal monitoring of the tumoral mutation status throughout the course of the disease. The aims of the present study were to investigate the detection of KRAS mutations in CTCs from patients with metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) and to compare their mutation status during treatment or disease progression with that of the corresponding primary tumors.
Materials and methods: Identification of the seven most common KRAS mutations on codons 12 and 13 was performed by Peptide Nucleic Acid (PNA)-based qPCR method. The sensitivity of the assay was determined after isolation of KRAS mutant cancer cells spiked into healthy donors' blood, using the CellSearch Epithelial Cell kit. Consistent detection of KRAS mutations was achieved in samples containing at least 10 tumor cells/7.5 ml of blood.
Results: The clinical utility of the assay was assessed in 48 blood samples drawn from 31 patients with mCRC. All patients had PIK3CA and BRAF wild type primary tumors and 14 KRAS mutant tumors. CTCs were detected in 65% of specimens obtained from 74% of patients. KRAS mutation analysis in CTC-enriched specimens showed that 45% and 16.7% of patients with mutant and wild type primary tumors, respectively, had detectable mutations in their CTCs. Assessing KRAS mutations in serial blood samples revealed that individual patient's CTCs exhibited different mutational status of KRAS during treatment.
Conclusions: The current findings support the rationale for using the CTCs as a dynamic source of tumor cells which, by re-evaluating their KRAS mutation status, could predict, perhaps more accurately, the response of mCRC patients to targeted therapy.