A Subset of Large Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinomas in the Gastroenteropancreatic Tract May Evolve from Pre-existing Well-Differentiated Neuroendocrine Tumors

Endocr Pathol. 2021 Sep;32(3):396-407. doi: 10.1007/s12022-020-09659-6. Epub 2021 Jan 12.


In the gastro-entero-pancreatic (GEP) tract, neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) include well differentiated neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) and high-grade NE carcinomas (NECs), which are thought to make up separate and mutually exclusive tumor entities. Little is known, however, as to whether there may be any pathogenetic link between them. Clustering analysis of a 10-gene panel generated from a previously reported next-generation sequencing analysis on 48 GEP-NENs with clinical annotations was used in the study. Unsupervised cluster analysis showed three histology-independent clusters, namely, C1, C2, and C3, which accounted for 44% of patients but the entire array of mutations. All but two NECs fell into the clusters, yet with different prevalence rates (p < 0.0001). A model was devised according to which NETs were likely to evolve into NECs upon progression of C3 into C1 and C2, despite different morphology. The median Ki-67 labeling index was 5% in C3 showing better prognosis and 50% in C1 and C2 experiencing worse prognosis, with an impressive intra-tumor heterogeneity of diversely proliferating tumor areas. This study suggests that a subset of large cell NECs in the gastroenteropancreatic tract may evolve from pre-existing well-differentiated NETs.

Keywords: Carcinoma; Cluster analysis; Gastro-entero-pancreatic tract; Mutation; NEC; NET; Neuroendocrine; Pathogenesis; Prognosis; Transition; Tumor.