Background: MET-driven acquired resistance is emerging with unanticipated frequency in patients relapsing upon molecular therapy treatments. However, the determination of MET amplification remains challenging using both standard and next-generation sequencing-based methodologies. Liquid biopsy is an effective, non-invasive approach to define cancer genomic profiles, track tumor evolution over time, monitor treatment response and detect molecular resistance in advance. Circular RNAs (circRNAs), a family of RNA molecules that originate from a process of back-splicing, are attracting growing interest as potential novel biomarkers for their stability in body fluids.
Methods: We identified a circRNA encoded by the MET gene (circMET) and exploited blood-derived cell-free RNA (cfRNA) and matched tumor tissues to identify, stratify and monitor advanced cancer patients molecularly characterized by high MET activity, generally associated with genomic amplification.
Results: Using publicly available bioinformatic tools, we discovered that the MET locus transcribes several circRNA molecules, but only one candidate, circMET, was particularly abundant. Deeper molecular analysis revealed that circMET levels positively correlated with MET expression and activity, especially in MET-amplified cells. We developed a circMET-detection strategy and, in parallel, we performed standard FISH and IHC analyses in the same specimens to assess whether circMET quantification could identify patients displaying high MET activity. Longitudinal monitoring of circMET levels in the plasma of selected patients revealed the early emergence of MET amplification as a mechanism of acquired resistance to molecular therapies.
Conclusions: We found that measurement of circMET levels allows identification and tracking of patients characterized by high MET activity. Circulating circMET (ccMET) detection and analysis could be a simple, cost-effective, non-invasive approach to better implement patient stratification based on MET expression, as well as to dynamically monitor over time both therapy response and clonal evolution during treatment.
Keywords: Biomarker; Circular RNA; Molecular-targeted therapy resistance; Receptor tyrosine kinase.
© 2023. The Author(s).