ALK protein expression in rhabdomyosarcomas


Professor R Chetty, Department of Pathology, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of Natal, Private Bag 7, Congella 4013, Durban, South Africa. e-mail:


Aims:  The ALK p80 chimeric protein is thought to be up-regulated as a result of the t(2;5) as classically seen in anaplastic large cell lymphoma. However, rhabdomyosarcomas (in particular, the alveolar subtype) have also been noted to show expression of this protein. This study set out to examine ALK expression in a large number of rhabdomyosarcomas.

Methods and results:  Eighty-three cases of rhabdomyosarcomas and 16 cases of malignant mixed müllerian tumours with a rhabdomyosarcomatous component were retrieved from the archives of the Department of Anatomical Pathology for the period 1983–2001. The sections were stained with polyclonal ALK antibody. There were 52 male and 30 female patients. In one case, the gender of the patient was not indicated. The ages ranged from 1 week to 77 years. The most common site was the head and neck region, followed by the pelvis and extremities. Thirty-one cases were of the alveolar subtype while 40 cases were embryonal. There were four mixed embryonal/alveolar, six pleomorphic and two unclassifiable rhabdomyosarcomas. Fourteen of the 31 (45%) alveolar rhabdomyosarcomas stained positively for the ALK protein, while only six of the 40 embryonal (15%) cases showed positivity. One case each of the mixed embryonal/alveolar, pleomorphic and unclassified cases was also immunopositive. The rhabdomyosarcomatous component in the malignant mixed müllerian tumours was positive in four of the 16 cases.

Conclusion:  We conclude that a proportion of alveolar rhabdomyosarcomas (in particular) exhibit ALK protein expression. However, ALK expression is not restricted to this subtype. An extension of this study is to determine if this over-expression is as a result of the t(2;5) translocation.