An update on molecular alterations in melanocytic tumors with emphasis on Spitzoid lesions
Significant progress in the molecular pathology of melanocytic tumors have revealed that benign neoplasms, so-called nevi, are initiated by gain-of-function mutations in one of several primary oncogenes, such as BRAF in acquired melanocytic nevi, NRAS in congenital nevi or GNAQ/GNA11 in blue nevi, with consequent MAPK and PI3K/AKT/mTOR activation. Secondary genetic alterations overcome tumor suppressive mechanisms and allow the progression to intermediate lesions characterized by TERT-p mutation or to invasive melanomas displaying disruption of tumor suppressor genes. Currently, melanoma is molecularly regarded as four different diseases, namely BRAF, NRAS, NF1 and the “triple wild type” subtypes, which are associated with particular clinicopathological features. Melanocytic Spitzoid lesions include benign Spitz nevus, atypical Spitz tumor (AST) and Spitzoid melanoma. This is a challenging diagnostic group, particularly with regard to the distinction between AST and Spitzoid melanoma on clinical and histological grounds. Molecular analysis has identified the presence of HRAS mutation, BAP1 loss (often accompanying by BRAF mutations) or several kinase fusions in distinct categories of Spitz tumors. These aberrations account for the rapid growth characteristic of Spitz nevi. Subsequent growth is halted by various tumor suppressive mechanisms abrogation of which allow the development of AST, now better classified as low-grade melanocytic tumor. Although at present ancillary genetic techniques have not been very helpful in the prediction of biological behavior of AST, they have defined distinct tumor subsets differing with regard to biology and histology. Finally, we discuss how novel molecular markers may assist the differential diagnosis of melanoma, particularly from malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST). It is anticipated that the significant progress in the field of molecular pathology regarding the various types of melanocytic tumors, will eventually contribute to a more accurate histologic categorization, prediction of biologic behavior and personalized treatment.