To identify and understand early events in lung carcinogenesis, we used a cDNA array to screen for genes that are expressed differentially in normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells and a tumorigenic cell line (1170-I) derived from immortalized HBE cells after exposure to cigarette smoke condensate in vivo. Among these genes, we have identified the S100A2 gene, which encodes a nuclear calcium-binding protein, as being down-regulated in the 1170-I cells. Because this gene has been implicated as a tumor suppressor in breast cancer, we examined its potential role as a tumor suppressor in lung carcinogenesis. Levels of S100A2 transcript and protein, which were high in NHBE cells, decreased by up to 50% in immortalized HBE cells (BEAS-2B and 1799) and to low to nearly undetectable levels in transformed (1198) and tumorigenic (1170-I) HBE cells. Furthermore, S100A2 mRNA and protein were undetectable in 8 and expressed at a reduced level in 3 of 11 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines. Positive immunohistochemical staining of S100A2 was detected in the majority (75-83%) of normal and hyperplastic lung tissues, whereas it was detected in <10% of metaplastic lung tissues, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Treatment of 1170-I HBE and NSCLC cells with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine resulted in partial restoration of S100A2 expression in seven of eight cell lines. Indeed, CpG methylation was detected in the promoter region of the S100A2 gene. Our results suggest that S100A2 expression is suppressed early during lung carcinogenesis, possibly by hypermethylation of its promoter, and that its loss may be a contributing factor in lung cancer development or a biomarker of early changes in this process.