Patterns of transcription factor programs and immune pathway activation define four major subtypes of SCLC with distinct therapeutic vulnerabilities

Carl M. Gay, C. Allison Stewart, Elizabeth M. Park, Lixia Diao, Sarah M. Groves, Simon Heeke, Barzin Y. Nabet, Junya Fujimoto, Luisa M. Solis, Wei Lu, Yuanxin Xi, Robert J. Cardnell, Qi Wang, Giulia Fabbri, Kasey R. Cargill, Natalie I. Vokes, Kavya Ramkumar, Bingnan Zhang, Carminia M. Della Corte, Paul RobsonStephen G. Swisher, Jack A. Roth, Bonnie S. Glisson, David S. Shames, Ignacio I. Wistuba, Jing Wang, Vito Quaranta, John Minna, John V. Heymach, Lauren Averett Byers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

393 Scopus citations


Despite molecular and clinical heterogeneity, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is treated as a single entity with predictably poor results. Using tumor expression data and non-negative matrix factorization, we identify four SCLC subtypes defined largely by differential expression of transcription factors ASCL1, NEUROD1, and POU2F3 or low expression of all three transcription factor signatures accompanied by an Inflamed gene signature (SCLC-A, N, P, and I, respectively). SCLC-I experiences the greatest benefit from the addition of immunotherapy to chemotherapy, while the other subtypes each have distinct vulnerabilities, including to inhibitors of PARP, Aurora kinases, or BCL-2. Cisplatin treatment of SCLC-A patient-derived xenografts induces intratumoral shifts toward SCLC-I, supporting subtype switching as a mechanism of acquired platinum resistance. We propose that matching baseline tumor subtype to therapy, as well as manipulating subtype switching on therapy, may enhance depth and duration of response for SCLC patients. Gay et al. provide a classification for four subtypes of small cell lung cancer, each with unique molecular features and therapeutic vulnerabilities. An inflamed, mesenchymal subtype predicts benefit with the addition of immunotherapy to chemotherapy. Intratumoral switching between chemosensitive and chemoresistant subtypes accompanies therapeutic resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-360.e7
JournalCancer Cell
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 8 2021


  • ASCL1
  • EMT
  • POU2F3
  • SCLC
  • intratumoral heterogeneity
  • neuroendocrine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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