In vitro chemo- and radio-resistance in small cell lung cancer correlates with cell adhesion and constitutive activation of AKT and MAP kinase pathways

Oncogene. 2002 Dec 12;21(57):8683-95. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1205939.


Most small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients relapse within 12 months of starting combination chemotherapy plus radio-therapy, due to the development of acquired chemo- and radio-resistance. This phenomenon relates to the induction of tumour differentiation, resulting in apoptosis-resistant, morphologically variant (v-SCLC) cells, which lack the neuroendocrine expression of classic (c-) SCLC cells. In this study spontaneously adherent SCLC sublines were shown by differential gene expression analysis to provide an in vitro model of variant differentiation in SCLC, with down-regulation of neuroendocrine markers and up-regulation of epithelial differentiation markers cyclin D1, endothelin, the cell adhesion molecules CD 44 and integrin subunits alpha2, beta3 and beta4. The sensitivity of adherent SCLC sublines to etoposide, cyclophosphamide and gamma radiation was significantly diminished relative to parent suspension cell lines. Western blot analysis using phosphorylation-specific antibodies to Akt and MAP kinase revealed markedly elevated activation in adherent SCLC sublines, paralleled by increased levels of phosphorylated Bad protein and activated NF-kappaB. Subcultivation of the adherent sublines on uncoated surfaces reversed their adherent phenotype immediately and under these conditions Akt activity reverted to low levels. These results suggest that c-SCLC cells can differentiate spontaneously to v-SCLC and that the associated cellular adhesion may trigger Akt-dependent inhibition of apoptosis in SCLC cells, thus leading to acquired chemo- and radio-resistance.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Base Sequence
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / enzymology
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / radiotherapy
  • Cell Adhesion*
  • DNA Primers
  • Gamma Rays
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA Primers
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • AKT1 protein, human
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt