Discrepancies between FISH and immunohistochemistry for assessment of the ALK status are associated with ALK ‘borderline’-positive rearrangements or a high copy number: a potential major issue for anti-ALK therapeutic strategies

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BackgroundPatients with advanced lung adenocarcinomas expressing ALK rearrangements are highly responsive to crizotinib, a dual ALK/c-MET inhibitor. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) is an easy clinically and routinely applicable cost-effective assay for ALK, c-MET and ROS1 protein expression for potential treatment with crizotinib. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the percentage and the pattern of ALK-rearranged cells, the variation in the native ALK copy number, as well as ALK, c-MET and ROS1 protein expression, and their significance on outcome of crizotinib-treated lung adenocarcinoma patients.Patients and methodsConsecutive lung adenocarcinoma specimens (n = 176) ‘double-negative’ (wild-type EGFR and KRAS) were tested for ALK rearrangements/copy number alterations and for ALK, c-MET and ROS1 protein expression using automated standardized protocols. Preliminary data on the outcome of crizotinib-treated patients were recorded.ResultsFISH analysis identified 26/176 (15%) cases with ALK rearrangements. Seven cases had discordant results between the ALK FISH and IHC. Five cases with discordant FISH-positive/IHC-negative revealed FISH ‘borderline’ positivity (15%–20%). Three cases overexpressed c-MET and responded to crizotinib, and two cases with ALK-‘borderline’ rearranged cells only, not associated with c-MET expression, progressed under crizotinib. Two cases with discordant FISH-negative/IHC-positive revealed ALK gene amplification without associated c-MET or ROS1 protein expression.ConclusionsThe discrepancies observed between the IHC and FISH data revealed unexpected biological events, rather than technical issues, which potentially can have a strong impact on the therapeutic strategy with crizotinib.

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