KIT (CD117) is frequently overexpressed in thymic carcinomas but is absent in thymomas



KIT (CD117), a tyrosine kinase receptor, has not been widely studied in epithelial tumours. In a systematic immunohistochemical survey of KIT expression on tissue arrays incorporating 671 cases, it was found that thymic carcinomas frequently express KIT. Twenty-two thymic carcinomas, 110 thymomas, and 16 non-neoplastic thymus glands were retrieved for further analyses. Immunohistochemically, 19 (86%) thymic carcinomas revealed heterogeneous to diffuse membranous positivity, whereas no thymomas or normal thymus glands contained positive epithelial cells. Using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), c-kit transcripts could be demonstrated in all immunohistochemically positive cases. PCR amplification and direct sequencing of the c-kit juxtamembrane domains (exons 9 and 11) and tyrosine kinase domain (exons 13 and 17) were also performed on the thymic carcinomas but mutations were not found. Some non-thymic epithelial tumours showed frequent KIT expression including adenoid cystic carcinomas of the salivary gland (100% positive), chromophobe renal cell carcinomas (94%), renal oncocytomas (67%), and neuroendocrine tumours (34%). Other carcinomas were infrequently immunoreactive for KIT. The findings of this study suggest that KIT is involved in the pathogenesis of thymic carcinomas. The overexpression of KIT in thymic carcinomas has potential diagnostic utility in differentiating these tumours from thymomas and carcinomas arising from other sites, which express KIT infrequently. Copyright © 2004 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.