Fas (CD95) and its ligand FasL signal apoptosis and are involved in tissue homeostasis and the elimination of target cells by cytotoxic T cells. Corruption of this signalling pathway in tumour cells, for example by reduced Fas expression or increased FasL expression, can participate in tumour development and immune escape. The present study has analysed Fas/FasL expression and Fas death signalling function in vivo in lung tumour tissues [57 non-small cell lung carcinomas and 64 neuroendocrine lung tumours including small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC)] in comparison with normal lung tissue, and in vitro in neuroendocrine tumour cell lines in comparison with normal human bronchial epithelial cells. The Fas expression score was markedly decreased compared with normal lung tissue in 90% of the 121 lung tumours and was completely lost in 24%. The Fas staining pattern suggested cytoplasmic Fas expression in tumours, whereas membrane expression was observed in normal lung tissue. Loss of Fas at the cell surface was also shown in vitro by FACS analysis of neuroendocrine tumour cell lines and was concomitant with the resistance of tumour cells to FasL-mediated apoptosis according to in vitro cell viability. The lack of cell surface Fas expression in tumour cell lines resulted from the lack of intracellular Fas protein due to impaired Fas gene transcription. The FasL expression score was also decreased in most non-small cell lung carcinomas compared with normal bronchial cells, whereas 91% of SCLCs had higher expression than normal cells. FasL overexpression was related to advanced tumour stage as well as to a Fas/FasL ratio less than 1. It is concluded that a marked decrease in Fas expression may be part of lung tumourigenesis allowing tumour cells to escape from apoptosis. FasL overexpression in the context of Fas down-regulation in SCLC predicts the ability of SCLC cells to induce paracrine killing of Fas-expressing cytotoxic T cells. In lung tumours, Fas restoration may represent a key, although not unique, step in therapeutic strategies to reconstitute the ability of tumour cells to undergo apoptosis.
Copyright 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.