Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Molecular Signatures Recapitulate Lung Developmental Pathways

Alain C. Borczuk, Lyall Gorenstein, Kristin L. Walter, Adel A. Assaad, Liqun Wang, Charles A. Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

185 Scopus citations


Current paradigms hold that lung carcinomas arise from pleuripotent stem cells capable of differentiation into one or several histological types. These paradigms suggest lung tumor cell ontogeny is determined by consequences of gene expression that recapitulate events important in embryonic lung development. Using oligonucleotide microarrays, we acquired gene profiles from 32 microdissected non-small-cell lung tumors. We determined the 100 top-ranked marker genes for adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, large cell, and carcinoid using nearest neighbor analysis. Results were validated by immunostaining for 11 selected proteins using a tissue microarray representing 80 tumors. Gene expression data of lung development were accessed from a publicly available dataset generated with the murine Mullk genome microarray. Self-organized mapping identified two temporally distinct clusters of murine orthologues. Supervised clustering of lung development data showed large-cell carcinoma gene orthologues were in a cluster expressed in pseudoglandular and canalicular stages whereas adenocarcinoma homologues were predominantly in a cluster expressed later in the terminal sac and alveolar stages of murine lung development. Representative large-cell genes (E2F3, MYBL2, HDAC2, CDK4, PCNA) are expressed in the nucleus and are associated with cell cycle and proliferation. In contrast, adenocarcinoma genes are associated with lung-specific transcription pathways (SFTPB, TTF1), cell adhesion, and signal transduction. In sum, non-small-cell lung tumors histology gene profiles suggest mechanisms relevant to ontogeny and clinical course. Adenocarcinoma genes are associated with differentiation and glandular formation whereas large-cell genes are associated with proliferation and differentiation arrest. The identification of developmentally regulated pathways active in tumorigenesis provides insights into lung carcinogenesis and suggests early steps may differ according to the eventual tumor morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1949-1960
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes


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