CLDN18-ARHGAP26/6 fusions have been identified in gastric cancers, with a predominance in diffuse-type gastric cancers (DGCs). Although in vitro experiments have suggested an oncogenic role for CLDN18-ARHGAP26/6 fusions, the exact frequencies and clinicopathological characteristics of the fusion-positive cases are poorly understood. We analyzed 254 cases of gastric cancer (172 diffuse-type and 82 intestinal-type) using RT-PCR and FISH, and also analyzed TCGA transcriptome datasets to identify genes that are related to the aggressive behaviors of fusion-positive cancers. Our assays identified 26 fusion-positive cases, 22 of which were DGCs (22/172, 12.8%). Unlike fusion-negative DGCs, almost all fusion-positive DGCs retained E-cadherin expression (P = 0.036). Fusion-positive DGCs also showed a higher prevalence of lymphatic and distant organ metastases, and these trends were only significant in the younger age group (< 60 years). In this group, the majority of cases with distant organ metastases (4 of 6 cases) were fusion-positive, and the multivariate regression analysis revealed that fusion status was an independent predictive marker for distant organ metastases (P = 0.002). In the TCGA dataset analysis, carbonic anhydrase 9 was postulated to be a potential modulator of the age-specific effects of the fusion protein, compatible with the immunohistochemical analysis of our cohort. Therefore, CLDN18-ARHGAP26/6 fusion-positive DGCs are considered biologically distinct entities that will require more advanced therapeutic options.
Keywords: CA9; CLDN18-ARHGAP fusion; E-cadherin; RHOA; diffuse-type gastric cancer.