Improvement in genetic characterization of Colon Cancer (CC) patients is required to propose new potential targets, since surgical resection coupled to chemotherapy, presents several limits such as cancer recurrence and drug resistance. Targeted therapies have more efficacy and less toxicity than standard treatments. One of the most relevant cancer-specific actionable targets are receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) whose role in CC need to be better investigated.
We have analysed 37 CC patients using the Ion AmpliSeq™ Comprehensive Cancer Panel (CCP). We have confirmed the somatic nature of RET variants through Sanger sequencing and assessed RET activation status and protein expression by immunofluorescence and western-blot analyses. We have used RET mutant expression vectors to evaluate the effect of selected mutations in HEK293 cells by performing proliferation, migration and clonogenic assays.
Among the 409 cancer-related genes included in the CCP we have focused on the RTKs. Overall, we have observed 101 different potentially damaging variants distributed across 31 RTK genes in 28 patients. The most frequently mutated RTKs were FLT4, ROS1, EPH7, ERBB2, EGFR, RET, FGFR3 and FGFR4. In particular, we have identified 4 different somatic variants in 10% of CC patients in RET proto-oncogene. Among them, we have demonstrated that the G533C variant was able to activate RET by promoting dimer formation and enhancing Y1062 phosphorylation. Moreover, we have demonstrated that RET G533C variant was able to stimulate anchorage-dependent proliferation, migration and clonogenic cell survival. Notably, the effects induced by the RET G533C variant were abolished by vandetanib.
The discovery of pathogenic variants across RTK genes in 75% of the CC patients under analysis, suggests a previously underestimated role for RTKs in CC development. The identification of a gain-of-function RET mutation in CC highlights the potential use of RET in targeted therapy.