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Stage IV lung carcinoids: spectrum and evolution of proliferation rate, focusing on variants with elevated proliferation indices


The spectrum and evolution of proliferation rates in stage IV lung carcinoids is poorly defined. In particular, there are limited data on the prevalence and characteristics of tumors exceeding the standard upper proliferative criteria—as defined largely based on early-stage carcinoids—in metastatic setting. Sixty-six patients with stage IV lung carcinoids were identified, and all evaluable samples (n = 132; mean 2 samples per patient) were analyzed for mitotic counts and Ki-67 rate. Clinicopathologic and genomic features associated with elevated proliferation rates (>10 mitoses per 2 mm2 and/or >20% hot-spot Ki-67), and evolution of proliferation rates in serial specimens were analyzed. We found that mitoses and/or Ki-67 exceeded the standard criteria in 35 of 132 (27%) samples, primarily (31/35 cases) at  metastatic sites. Although neuroendocrine neoplasms with >10 mitoses per 2 mm2 are currently regarded as de facto neuroendocrine carcinomas, the notion that these cases are part of the spectrum of carcinoids was supported by (1) well-differentiated morphology, (2) conventional proliferation rates in other samples from same patient, (3) genetic characteristics, including the lack of RB1/TP53 alterations in all tested samples (n = 19), and (4) median overall survival of 2.7 years, compared to <1 year survival of stage IV neuroendocrine carcinomas in the historic cohorts. In patients with matched primary/metastatic specimens (48 pairs), escalation of mitoses or Ki-67 by ≥10 points was observed in 35% of metastatic samples; clonal relationship in one pair with marked proliferative progression was confirmed by next-generation sequencing. Notably, escalation of proliferation rate was documented in a subset of metastases arising from resected typical carcinoids, emphasizing that the diagnosis of typical carcinoid in primary tumor does not assure low proliferation rate at metastatic sites. In conclusion, stage IV lung carcinoids frequently exceed the standard proliferative criteria established for primary tumors, and commonly exhibit proliferative escalation at metastatic sites. Despite the overlap of proliferation rates, these tumors show fundamental morphologic, genomic and clinical differences from neuroendocrine carcinomas, and should be classified separately from those tumors. Awareness of the increased proliferative spectrum in metastatic carcinoids is critical for their accurate diagnosis. Further studies are warranted to explore the impact of proliferation indices on prognosis and therapeutic responses of patients with metastatic carcinoids.

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These authors contributed equally as co-first authors: Natasha Rekhtman, Patrice Desmeules


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This study was supported in part by the grant from the Fiona and Stanley Druckenmiller Center for Lung Cancer Research (to NR). This research was made possible by infrastructure support by the NIH/NCI Cancer Center Support Grant P30 CA008748.

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The authors declare that they have no relevant conflicts of interest.

Correspondence to Natasha Rekhtman.

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