Detection of ALK Rearrangement by Immunohistochemistry in Lung Adenocarcinoma and the Identification of a Novel EML4-ALK Variant

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The echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like 4 anaplastic lymphoma kinase (EML4-ALK) fusion gene has been identified as a potent oncogenic driver in non–small-cell lung cancer, in particular adenocarcinoma (ADC). It defines a unique subgroup of lung ADC, which may be responsive to ALK inhibitors. Detection of ALK rearrangement by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) or reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is considered to be the standard procedure, but each with its own limitation. We evaluated the practical usefulness of immunohistochemistry (IHC) to detect ALK expression as a reliable detection method of ALK rearrangement in lung ADC.


We tested 373 lung ADCs for ALK rearrangement by IHC and FISH. Multiplex RT-PCR was performed to confirm the fusion variants.


Twenty-two of 373 lung ACs (5.9%) were positive for ALK immunoreactivity. ALK-positive tumor cells demonstrated strong and diffused granular staining in the cytoplasm. All the ALK IHC-positive cases were confirmed to harbor ALK rearrangement, either by FISH, or RT-PCR. Two cases with positive ALK protein expression, but negative for breakapart FISH signal were shown to harbor EML4-ALK variant 1 by RT-PCR. None of the ALK IHC-negative cases were FISH-positive. In addition, we identified a novel EML4-ALK fusion variant (E3:ins53A20), and its potent transformation potential has been confirmed by in vivo tumorigenicity assay.


IHC can effectively detect ALK rearrangement in lung cancer. It might provide a reliable and cost-effective diagnostic approach in routine pathologic laboratories for the identification of suitable candidates for ALK-targeted therapy.

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