, Volume 26, Issue 10, pp 1271-1277
Date: 15 May 2011

Heterogeneous distribution of K-ras mutations in primary colon carcinomas: implications for EGFR-directed therapy

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K-ras mutations predict resistance against epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-directed therapy of metastatic colorectal cancer (CRC). The purpose of this study was to analyze the distribution of K-ras mutations in primary tumors and corresponding sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) from colon cancer patients.


Tumor biopsies and SLNs from 158 patients with non-metastatic colon cancer were analyzed for K-ras mutations in codons 12 and 13 by a sensitive and quantitative peptide nucleic acid clamp PCR assay.


Analyses of single fresh-frozen tumor biopsies revealed K-ras mutations in 67 (42%) of the patients. Apparently low levels of K-ras mutations in 13 of the mutated primary tumors and the presence of K-ras mutations in SLNs from seven patients with a wild-type primary tumor biopsy suggested possible intratumoral heterogeneity for 20 of the patients. To confirm this hypothesis, we analyzed tissue sections from all available formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tumor blocks from these 20 patients. Ten of the patients had a mixture of tissue sections positive and tissue sections negative for K-ras mutations, two patients had K-ras mutations in all sections, and eight patients had no detectable K-ras mutations in tumor FFPE tissue blocks. Among these eight patients, five had K-ras mutations detected in SLNs. Thus, evidence supporting a heterogeneous distribution of K-ras mutations was obtained for 15 patients.


Heterogeneous distribution of K-ras codon 12 and 13 mutations within primary tumor, or between primary tumor and lymph node metastases, was demonstrated for 15 (20%) of 74 colon cancer patients having K-ras mutations. This may have implications for tissue sampling routines with regard to EGFR-directed therapy of CRC, both in adjuvant and metastatic settings.