Stemness and inducing differentiation of small cell lung cancer NCI-H446 cells

Cell Death Dis. 2013 May 16;4(5):e633. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.152.


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts for nearly 15% of human lung cancers and is one of the most aggressive solid tumors. The SCLC cells are thought to derive from self-renewing pulmonary neuroendocrine cells by oncogenic transformation. However, whether the SCLC cells possess stemness and plasticity for differentiation as normal stem cells has not been well understood thus far. In this study, we investigated the expressions of multilineage stem cell markers in the cancer cells of SCLC cell line (NCI-H446) and analyzed their clonogenicity, tumorigenicity, and plasticity for inducing differentiation. It has been found that most cancer cells of the cell line expressed multilineage stem cell markers under the routine culture conditions and generated single-cell clones in anchorage-dependent or -independent conditions. These cancer cells could form subcutaneous xenograft tumors and orthotopic lung xenograft tumors in BALB/C-nude mice. Most cells in xenograft tumors expressed stem cell markers and proliferation cell nuclear antigen Ki67, suggesting that these cancer cells remained stemness and highly proliferative ability in vivo. Intriguingly, the cancer cells could be induced to differentiate into neurons, adipocytes, and osteocytes, respectively, in vitro. During the processes of cellular phenotype-conversions, autophagy and apoptosis were two main metabolic events. There is cross-talking between autophagy and apoptosis in the differentiated cancer cells. In addition, the effects of the inhibitor and agonist for Sirtuin1/2 on the inducing osteogenic differentiation indicated that Sirtuin1/2 had an important role in this process. Taken together, these results indicate that most cancer cells of NCI-H446 cell line possess stemness and plasticity for multilineage differentiation. These findings have potentially some translational applications in treatments of SCLC with inducing differentiation therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Hydroxamic Acids / pharmacology
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neurogenesis
  • Osteogenesis
  • Sirtuin 1 / metabolism
  • Sirtuin 2 / metabolism
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / metabolism*
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / pathology
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • Hydroxamic Acids
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • trichostatin A
  • Sirtuin 1
  • Sirtuin 2