Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Identification of the transforming STRN-ALK fusion as a potential therapeutic target in the aggressive forms of thyroid cancer.

PMID 24613930


Thyroid cancer is a common endocrine malignancy that encompasses well-differentiated as well as dedifferentiated cancer types. The latter tumors have high mortality and lack effective therapies. Using a paired-end RNA-sequencing approach, we report the discovery of rearrangements involving the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene in thyroid cancer. The most common of these involves a fusion between ALK and the striatin (STRN) gene, which is the result of a complex rearrangement involving the short arm of chromosome 2. STRN-ALK leads to constitutive activation of ALK kinase via dimerization mediated by the coiled-coil domain of STRN and to a kinase-dependent, thyroid-stimulating hormone-independent proliferation of thyroid cells. Moreover, expression of STRN-ALK transforms cells in vitro and induces tumor formation in nude mice. The kinase activity of STRN-ALK and the ALK-induced cell growth can be blocked by the ALK inhibitors crizotinib and TAE684. In addition to well-differentiated papillary cancer, STRN-ALK was found with a higher prevalence in poorly differentiated and anaplastic thyroid cancers, and it did not overlap with other known driver mutations in these tumors. Our data demonstrate that STRN-ALK fusion occurs in a subset of patients with highly aggressive types of thyroid cancer and provide initial evidence suggesting that it may represent a therapeutic target for these patients.