Intra- and inter-tumor heterogeneity of BRAF V600Emutations in primary and metastatic melanoma

Molly Yancovitz, Adam Litterman, Joanne Yoon, Elise Ng, Richard L. Shapiro, Russell S. Berman, Anna C. Pavlick, Farbod Darvishian, Paul Christos, Madhu Mazumdar, Iman Osman, David Polsky

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224 Scopus citations


The rationale for using small molecule inhibitors of oncogenic proteins as cancer therapies depends, at least in part, on the assumption that metastatic tumors are primarily clonal with respect to mutant oncogene. With the emergence of BRAF V600E as a therapeutic target, we investigated intra- and inter-tumor heterogeneity in melanoma using detection of the BRAF V600E mutation as a marker of clonality. BRAF mutant-specific PCR (MS-PCR) and conventional sequencing were performed on 112 tumors from 73 patients, including patients with matched primary and metastatic specimens (n = 18). Nineteen patients had tissues available from multiple metastatic sites. Mutations were detected in 36/112 (32%) melanomas using conventional sequencing, and 85/112 (76%) using MS-PCR. The better sensitivity of the MS-PCR to detect the mutant BRAF V600E allele was not due to the presence of contaminating normal tissue, suggesting that the tumor was comprised of subclones of differing BRAF genotypes. To determine if tumor subclones were present in individual primary melanomas, we performed laser microdissection and mutation detection via sequencing and BRAF V600E-specific SNaPshot analysis in 9 cases. Six of these cases demonstrated differing proportions of BRAF V600Eand BRAF wild-type cells in distinct microdissected regions within individual tumors. Additional analyses of multiple metastatic samples from individual patients using the highly sensitive MS-PCR without microdissection revealed that 5/19 (26%) patients had metastases that were discordant for the BRAF V600E mutation. In conclusion, we used highly sensitive BRAF mutation detection methods and observed substantial evidence for heterogeneity of the BRAF V600E mutation within individual melanoma tumor specimens, and among multiple specimens from individual patients. Given the varied clinical responses of patients to BRAF inhibitor therapy, these data suggest that additional studies to determine possible associations between clinical outcomes and intra- and inter-tumor heterogeneity could prove fruitful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere29336
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 3 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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