High BRAF variant allele frequencies are associated with distinct pathological features and responsiveness to target therapy in melanoma patients

ESMO Open. 2021 Jun;6(3):100133. doi: 10.1016/j.esmoop.2021.100133. Epub 2021 May 10.


Background: BRAF mutant melanoma patients are commonly treated with anti-BRAF therapeutic strategies. However, many factors, including the percentage of BRAF-mutated cells, may contribute to the great variability in patient outcomes.

Patients and methods: The BRAF variant allele frequency (VAF; defined as the percentage of mutated alleles) of primary and secondary melanoma lesions, obtained from 327 patients with different disease stages, was assessed by pyrosequencing. The BRAF mutation rate and VAF were then correlated with melanoma pathological features and patients' clinical characteristics. Kaplan-Meier curves were used to study the correlations between BRAF VAF, overall survival (OS), and progression-free survival (PFS) in a subset of 62 patients treated by anti-BRAF/anti-MEK therapy after metastatic progression.

Results: A highly heterogeneous BRAF VAF was identified (3%-90%). Besides being correlated with age, a higher BRAF VAF level was related to moderate lymphocytic infiltration (P = 0.017), to melanoma thickness according to Clark levels, (level V versus III, P = 0.004; level V versus IV, P = 0.04), to lymph node metastases rather than cutaneous (P = 0.04) or visceral (P = 0.03) secondary lesions. In particular, a BRAF VAF >25% was significantly associated with a favorable outcome in patients treated with the combination of anti-BRAF/anti-MEK drug (OS P = 0.04; PFS P = 0.019), retaining a significant value as an independent factor for the OS and the PFS in the multivariate analysis (P = 0.014 and P = 0.003, respectively).

Conclusion: These results definitively support the role of the BRAF VAF as a potential prognostic and predictive biomarker in melanoma patients in the context of BRAF inhibition.

Keywords: BRAF mutations; increased survival; melanoma; variant allele frequency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Gene Frequency
  • Humans
  • Melanoma* / drug therapy
  • Melanoma* / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Skin Neoplasms* / genetics


  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf