K-ras gene mutations have been reported as early events in colorectal tumorigenesis, but their role in tumor initiation and development is still unclear. To analyze and compare K-ras mutational patterns between colorectal tissues at different stages of tumor progression in individual patients, 65 colorectal tissue samples, including carcinoma, adenoma, histologically normal mucosa, submucosal muscularis propria, and histologically normal mucosa distant from tumor, were obtained from 13 patients with colorectal cancer. In addition, normal mucosal tissues obtained from four normal individuals were analyzed. Each of the 13 tumors was shown previously to harbor a mutation in either codon 12 or 13 of the K-ras gene by direct sequencing. These tissues were reanalyzed, using the recently established mutant allele enrichment + denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis method, which can detect one mutant allele in 104–105 normal alleles, thus allowing for the analysis of infrequent cells bearing mutations against the background of wild-type cells. No K-ras codon 12 mutation was detected by this method in the histologically normal mucosal tissues sampled at the margin of resection distant from the tumor or in those obtained from four normal individuals. On the other hand, these mutations were detected in 9 of 10 adenoma and 6 of 10 mucosa samples from 10 patients with known K-ras codon 12 mutations, and also in 2 of 3 carcinoma, 2 of 3 adenoma, and 1 of 3 mucosa samples obtained from 3 patients with known K-ras codon 13 mutations. Thus, K-ras codon 12 mutations were found to occur with a high frequency (53.8%) in histologically normal mucosa adjacent to tumors of patients with K-ras mutation-positive colorectal cancer, suggesting that they may be useful biomarkers for early detection of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, multiple K-ras mutations were found in tissues of nearly half of the 13 patients, indicating that distinct evolutionary subclones may be involved in the development of tumor in some patients with colorectal cancer.


Supported by NIH Contract CN-15393-02 (Early Detection Research Network) and American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant IRG-58-32.

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