Neuroendocrine differentiation in endocrine and nonendocrine lung carcinomas

R. L. Linnoila, J. L. Mulshine, S. M. Steinberg, K. Funa, M. J. Matthews, J. D. Cotelingam, A. F. Gazdar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Bronchial carcinoids and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) are currently recognized as neuroendocrine (NE) neoplasms. However, non-SCLC (NSCLC) may also express NE properties. Paraffin-embedded sections of a comprehensive panel of 13 lung carcinomas were analyzed for the expression of three markers common to all NE cells, namely, chromogranin A, Leu-7 and neuron-specific enolase (NSE), five specific NE secretory products, and four other tumor markers by immunohistochemistry using the sensitive avidin-biotinylated peroxidase technique. The authors were able to demonstrate the following: (1) most, but not all carcinoids and SCLCs expressed multiple NE markers in a high percentage of tumor cells; (2) up to half of NSCLC cases contained small subpopulations of cells expressing NE markers; and (3) occasional NSCLCs showed staining patterns indistinguishable from SCLC. Specifically, 7 of 77 NSCLCs expressed four or more NE markers. NE markers in NSCLCs were more commonly expressed in adenocarcinomas and large cell carcinomas and rarely in squamous cell carcinomas. For comparison, the mean number of NE markers expressed by all cases of NSCLC was 1.5, carcinoids 6.0, and SCLCs 3.8. Individual 'marker counts' were not useful in categorizing lung tumors as carcinoids and SCLC versus NSCLC. Instead, 95% of the tumors were correctly classified, applying a statistical model created from staining indices of the three general NE markers (chromogranin A, Leu-7, NSE) and three other tumor markers (carcinoembryonic antigen, keratin, vimentin). Because NSCLCs with NE features might have different clinical characteristics than other NSCLCs, immunohistochemistry provides an effective manner to identify this biologically interesting subset of NSCLCs in routine paraffin sections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-652
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican journal of clinical pathology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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