Characterization of Variant Subclasses of Cell Lines Derived from Small Cell Lung Cancer Having Distinctive Biochemical, Morphological, and Growth Properties

A. F. Gazdar, D. N. Carney, M. M. Nau, J. D. Minna

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423 Scopus citations


We have described the establishment and biochemical characterization of 50 small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) cell lines. Further analysis of these data, combined with studies of morphology and growth characteristics, indicates that 35 (70%) of the lines retained typical morphology (SCLC, intermediate subtype), growth characteristics (growth as tightly packed floating cellular aggregates, long doubling times and low colony-forming efficiencies), and biochemical profile (presence of L-dopa decarboxylase, bombesin-like immunoreactivity, neuron-specific enolase, and high concentrations of brain isoenzyme of creatine kinase). They are referred to as classic SCLC lines. The remaining 15 (30%) lines had discordant expression of the biochemical markers; they retained high concentrations of brain isozyme of creatine kinase, but had significantly lower concentrations of neuron-specific enolase and lacked L-dopa decarboxylase and bombesin-like immunoreactivity. These cell lines are called variants. SCLC variant lines could further be divided into (a) biochemical variant lines having variant biochemical profile but retaining typical SCLC morphology and growth characteristics; and (b) morphological variant (SCLC-MV) lines having variant biochemical profile, altered morphology (features of large cell undifferentiated carcinoma) and altered growth characteristics (growth as loosely attached floating aggregates, relatively short doubling times and cloning efficiencies). Fifty-five clones derived from the three SCLC subclasses retained their parental phenotypes. In SCLC-MV lines there was a near constant relationship between variant morphology, altered growth characteristics and amplification of the c-myc oncogene; classic SCLC and biochemical variant SCLC lines were not amplified. Variant morphologies frequently are present in SCLC tumors at autopsy, and most SCLC-MV lines reflect changes that had occurred in the tumors from which they were derived. Because SCLC-MV tumors behave more virulently in the patient and are radioresistant in vitro, these findings are of considerable biological and clinical interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2924-2930
Number of pages7
JournalCancer Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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