Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma is a highly aggressive neoplasm. Affected patients typically present with advanced disease where there is little hope for cure using conventional therapeutic modalities. Understanding the genetic alterations underlying the development of anaplastic thyroid carcinoma, such as mutational activation of BRAF, could help clarify its relationship with well-differentiated forms of thyroid carcinoma (ie follicular and papillary carcinoma) and could help select patients most likely to benefit from novel therapeutic strategies targeting BRAF. We tested 16 anaplastic thyroid carcinomas for the thymine (T)→ adenine (A) missense mutation at nucleotide 1796 in the BRAF gene using a newly developed assay that employs a novel primer extension method (Mutector® assay). Seven of these anaplastic thyroid carcinomas arose in association with a well-differentiated thyroid carcinoma, and these were also evaluated. The 1796T→A mutation was detected in eight (50%) of the anaplastic thyroid carcinomas, in four of five (80%) associated papillary thyroid carcinomas, and in zero of two (0%) associated follicular carcinomas. In all seven cases where anaplastic thyroid carcinoma arose in association with a well-differentiated thyroid carcinoma, BRAF status in the two components was concordant. Like papillary thyroid carcinoma, a significant percentage of anaplastic thyroid carcinomas also harbor BRAF mutations. Indeed, when papillary thyroid carcinoma and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma occur together, they consistently share the same BRAF profile, supporting the notion that many anaplastic thyroid carcinomas actually represent progressive malignant degeneration of a pre-existing well-differentiated thyroid carcinoma. The high frequency of BRAF mutations in a tumor that is generally regarded as uniformly fatal justifies evaluation of the potential benefits of anti-BRAF therapy for patients with anaplastic thyroid carcinoma.
- Mitogen activated protein kinase
- Thyroid cancer
- Tyrosine kinase