Molecular profiling of lung cancer specimens and liquid biopsies using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry

Eleonora Bonaparte, Chiara Pesenti, Laura Fontana, Rossella Falcone, Leda Paganini, Anna Marzorati, Stefano Ferrero, Mario Nosotti, Paolo Mendogni, Claudia Bareggi, Silvia Maria Sirchia, Silvia Tabano, Silvano Bosari, Monica Miozzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Identification of predictive molecular alterations in lung adenocarcinoma is essential for accurate therapeutic decisions. Although several molecular approaches are available, a number of issues, including tumor heterogeneity, frequent material scarcity, and the large number of loci to be investigated, must be taken into account in selecting the most appropriate technique. MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry (MS), which allows multiplexed genotyping, has been adopted in routine diagnostics as a sensitive, reliable, fast, and cost-effective method. Our aim was to test the reliability of this approach in detecting targetable mutations in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In addition, we also analyzed low-quality samples, such as cytologic specimens, that often, are the unique source of starting material in lung cancer cases, to test the sensitivity of the system. Methods: We designed a MS-based assay for testing 158 mutations in the EGFR, KRAS, BRAF, ALK, PIK3CA, ERBB2, DDR2, AKT, and MEK1 genes and applied it to 92 NSCLC specimens and 13 liquid biopsies from another subset of NSCLC patients. We also tested the sensitivity of the method to distinguish low represented mutations using serial dilutions of mutated DNA. Results: Our panel is able to detect the most common NSCLC mutations and the frequency of the mutations observed in our cohort was comparable to literature data. The assay identifies mutated alleles at frequencies of 2.5-10%. In addition, we found that the amount of DNA template was irrelevant to efficiently uncover mutated alleles present at high frequency. However, when using less than 10 ng of DNA, the assay can detect mutations present in at least 10% of the alleles. Finally, using MS and a commercial kit for RT-PCR we tested liquid biopsy from 13 patients with identified mutations in cancers and detected the mutations in 4 (MS) and in 5 samples (RT-PCR). Conclusions: MS is a powerful method for the routine predictive tests of lung cancer also using low quality and scant tissues. Finally, after appropriate validation and improvement, MS could represent a promising and cost-effective strategy for monitoring the presence and percentage of the mutations also in non-invasive sampling.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalDiagnostic Pathology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 12 2018


  • MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry
  • Molecular diagnostics
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Targeted therapy
  • Tumor genotyping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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