ALK Fusion Partners Impact Response to ALK Inhibition: Differential Effects on Sensitivity, Cellular Phenotypes, and Biochemical Properties

Mol Cancer Res. 2018 Nov;16(11):1724-1736. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-18-0171. Epub 2018 Jul 12.


Oncogenic tyrosine kinase fusions involving the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) are detected in numerous tumor types. Although more than 30 distinct 5' fusion partner genes have been reported, treatment of ALK-rearranged cancers is decided without regard to which 5' partner is present. There is little data addressing how the 5' partner affects the biology of the fusion or responsiveness to ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI). On the basis of the hypothesis that the 5' partner influences the intrinsic properties of the fusion protein, cellular functions that impact oncogenic potential, and sensitivity to ALK TKIs, clonal 3T3 cell lines stably expressing seven different ALK fusion variants were generated. Biochemical and cellular assays were used to assess the efficacy of various ALK TKIs in clinical use, transformative phenotypes, and biochemical properties of each fusion. All seven ALK fusions induced focus formation and colonies in soft agar, albeit to varying degrees. IC50s were calculated for different ALK TKIs (crizotinib, ensartinib, alectinib, lorlatinib) and consistent differences (5-10 fold) in drug sensitivity were noted across the seven ALK fusions tested. Finally, biochemical analyses revealed negative correlations between kinase activity and protein stability. These results demonstrate that the 5' fusion partner plays an important biological role that affects sensitivity to ALK TKIs.Implications: This study shows that the 5' ALK fusion partner influences ALK TKI drug sensitivity. As many other kinase fusions are found in numerous cancers, often with overlapping fusion partners, these studies have ramifications for other kinase-driven malignancies. Mol Cancer Res; 16(11); 1724-36. ©2018 AACR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase / genetics
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Mice
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / genetics
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*


  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase