Neuroendocrine differentiation in endocrine and nonendocrine lung carcinomas

Am J Clin Pathol. 1988 Dec;90(6):641-52. doi: 10.1093/ajcp/90.6.641.


Bronchial carcinoids and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) are currently recognized as neuroendocrine (NE) neoplasms. However, non-SCLC (NSCLC) may also express NE properties. Paraffin-embedded sections of a comprehensive panel of 113 lung carcinomas were analyzed for the expression of three general markers common to all NE cells, namely, chromogranin A, Leu-7 and neuron-specific enolase (NSE), five specific NE secretory products, and four other tumor markers by immunohistochemistry using the sensitive avidin-biotinylated peroxidase technique. The authors were able to demonstrate the following: (1) most, but not all carcinoids and SCLCs expressed multiple NE markers in a high percentage of tumor cells; (2) up to a half of NSCLC cases contained small subpopulations of cells expressing NE in a high percentage of tumor cells; (2) up to half of NSCLC cases contained small subpopulations of cells expressing NE markers; and (3) occasional NSCLCs showed staining patterns indistinguishable from SCLC. Specifically, 7 of 77 NSCLCs expressed four or more NE markers. NE markers in NSCLCs were more commonly expressed in adenocarcinomas and large cell carcinomas and rarely in squamous cell carcinomas. For comparison, the mean number of NE markers expressed by all cases of NSCLC was 1.5, carcinoids 6.0, and SCLCs 3.8. Individual "marker counts" were not useful in categorizing lung tumors as carcinoids and SCLC versus NSCLC. Instead, 95% of the tumors were correctly classified, applying a statistical model created from staining indices of the three general NE markers (chromogranin A, Leu-7, NSE) and three other tumor markers (carcinoembryonic antigen, keratin, vimentin). Because NSCLCs with NE features might have different clinical characteristics than other NSCLCs, immunohistochemistry provides an effective manner to identify this biologically interesting subset of NSCLCs in routine paraffin sections.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / analysis
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / analysis
  • Carcinoid Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoid Tumor / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / pathology
  • Chromogranin A
  • Chromogranins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Leucine / analysis
  • Lung Neoplasms / analysis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / classification
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase / analysis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • Chromogranin A
  • Chromogranins
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase
  • Leucine