Background: This study evaluated the distribution of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) T790M mutations in treatment-naïve tumor and normal samples obtained from cancer patients. Methods: We utilized allele-specific PCR (AS-PCR), digital droplet PCR (ddPCR) and next generation sequencing (NGS) to detect EGFR T790M allele in several collections of tumor and normal human tissues. Results: AS-PCR analysis of treatment-naïve tumor samples revealed somatic T790M mutation in 3/394 (1%) non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLC) carrying the tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI)-sensitizing EGFR mutation, but in none of 334 NSCLC lacking EGFR exon 19 deletions (ex19del) or L858R substitutions and in none of 235 non-lung tumors. Use of highly sensitive and quantitative assays, such as ddPCR and NGS, produced a high number of T790M-specific signals even in presumably T790M-negative DNA specimens. This background noise was evidently higher in degraded DNA isolated from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues as compared to high molecular weight DNA. A combination of AS-PCR, ddPCR and NGS revealed mosaic EGFR T790M allele in 2/68 (3%) NSCLC treated with the first-generation TKI. Both these tumors produced evident and durable response to gefitinib. Conclusion: Detection of mosaic EGFR T790M mutation in treatment-naïve samples may be compromised by yet unresolved technical issues and may have limited clinical value.

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