Cytomorphology of non-small cell lung carcinoma with anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene rearrangement

Adam D. Toll, Zahra Maleki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) is a receptor tyrosine kinase demonstrating activating mutations in several malignancies including a subset (1-5%) of non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLC). Prior work examining, the histologic features of these tumors found a spectrum of findings, notably a solid/acinar pattern, as well as a mucinous cribriform pattern. We present the first study to date describing the cytomorphology of NSCLC harboring ALK rearrangements. A retrospective database search was conducted to identify cytologic specimens of NSCLC demonstrating ALK rearrangement. Cytogenetic analysis was performed with fluorescence in situ hybridization. A total of 12 patients were identified, 10 with available material. Cellular morphology and smear background was evaluated in the study group, as well as control cases lacking ALK rearrangement. A total of 25 specimens from 10 patients were obtained. Five patients never smoked, and four patients had a remote smoking history. ALK rearrangements were identified in cells with unique cytologic characteristics. All cases demonstrated moderate to poor differentiation with a predominance of single cells showing anisonucleosis and frequent intracytoplasmic neutrophils. The control cases showed cells with smaller, less pleomorphic nuclei, and smaller nucleoli with more clusters/tissue fragments. Several unique cytomorphologic features were consistently identified in the study population relative to the control population and include a prominence of single, markedly enlarged tumor cells with plasmacytoid features and anisonucleosis, as well as intracytoplasmic neutrophils. Larger studies are warranted to confirm our preliminary findings, as these features may help establish a more cost-effective means to select patients being tested for ALK mutational analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-15
Number of pages8
JournalDiagnostic cytopathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • ALK gene rearrangement
  • Cytology
  • Fine-needle aspiration
  • Lung adenocarcinoma
  • Non-small cell carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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