Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC), in particular adenocarcinoma, are often mixed with normal cells. Therefore, low sensitivity of direct sequencing used for K-Ras mutation analysis could be inadequate in some cases. Our study focused on the possibility to increase the detection of K-Ras mutations in cases of low tumour cellularity. Besides direct sequencing, we used wild-type hybridisation probes and peptide-nucleic-acid (PNA)-mediated PCR clamping to detect mutations at codons 12 and 13, in 114 routine consecutive NSCLC frozen surgical tumours untreated by targeted drugs. The sensitivity of the analysis without or with PNA was 10 and 1% of tumour DNA, respectively. Direct sequencing revealed K-Ras mutations in 11 out of 114 tumours (10%). Using PNA-mediated PCR clamping, 10 additional cases of K-Ras mutations were detected (21 out of 114, 18%, P<0.005), among which five in samples with low tumour cellularity. In adenocarcinoma, K-Ras mutation frequency increased from 7 out of 55 (13%) by direct sequencing to 15 out of 55 (27%) by clamped-PCR (P<0.005). K-Ras mutations detected by these sensitive techniques lost its prognostic value. In conclusion, a rapid and sensitive PCR-clamping test avoiding macro or micro dissection could be proposed in routine analysis especially for NSCLC samples with low percentage of tumour cells such as bronchial biopsies or after neoadjuvant chemotherapy
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