Generation of pulmonary neuroendocrine cells and SCLC-like tumors from human embryonic stem cells

Huanhuan Joyce Chen, Asaf Poran, Arun M. Unni, Sarah Xuelian Huang, Olivier Elemento, Hans Willem Snoeck, Harold Varmus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Cancer models based on cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) may reveal why certain constellations of genetic changes drive carcinogenesis in specialized lineages. Here we demonstrate that inhibition of NOTCH signaling induces up to 10% of lung progenitor cells to form pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (PNECs), putative precursors to small cell lung cancers (SCLCs), and we can increase PNECs by reducing levels of retinoblastoma (RB) proteins with inhibitory RNA. Reducing levels of TP53 protein or expressing mutant KRAS or EGFR genes did not induce or expand PNECs, but tumors resembling early-stage SCLC grew in immunodeficient mice after subcutaneous injection of PNEC-containing cultures in which expression of both RB and TP53 was blocked. Single-cell RNA profiles of PNECs are heterogeneous; when RB levels are reduced, the profiles resemble those from early-stage SCLC; and when both RB and TP53 levels are reduced, the transcriptome is enriched with cell cycle–specific RNAs. Our findings suggest that genetic manipulation of hESC-derived pulmonary cells will enable studies of this recalcitrant cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)674-687
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


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