SWI/SNF-deficient thoraco-pulmonary neoplasms

Semin Diagn Pathol. 2021 May;38(3):183-194. doi: 10.1053/j.semdp.2020.12.002. Epub 2021 Jan 12.


The SWI/SNF complexes are major regulators of gene expression and their alterations occur in a large array of cancers both of epithelial and mesenchymal lineages. Malignant rhabdoid tumors were the first malignancies linked to deregulation of these complexes with the involvement of SMARCB1 in their development but genetic alterations affect all subunits in other malignancies. In the chest and lung regions, SMARCA4 (BRG1) is the most frequently altered subunit and is involved in the pathogenesis of two subtypes of tumors, including bona fide carcinomas (SMARCA4-deficient non-small cell lung cancers) but also undifferentiated tumors that harbor an undifferentiated phenotype close to those of malignant rhabdoid tumors (SMARCA4-undifferentiated tumors). Although their histogenesis is yet to be fully understood, these tumors are associated with distinct clinical and pathological features even though some overlapping features have been reported in rare cases. SMARCA4 deficiency is easily asserted by immunohistochemistry that show the loss of nuclear expression of the protein in the nuclei of tumor cells. These tumors are commonly associated with high-grade cytological features, rhabdoid cytomorphology, solid architecture and extensive necrosis. The typical immunohistochemical signature of SMARCA4-UT combines co-inactivation of SMARCA2 (BRM) and the overexpression of SOX2 and SALL4. No specific therapeutic strategies have been so far developed for SMARCA4-deficient neoplasms. SMARCB1 subunit is involved in the development of several SMARCB1-deficient sarcomas on top of malignant rhabdoid tumors that may develop in the thorax. Malignant rhabdoid tumors affect mostly children of less than 5y. The differential diagnosis includes epithelioid sarcomas, malignant myoepithelial tumors or myoepithelial carcinomas, extra-skeletal myxoid chondrosarcomas and synovial sarcomas.

Keywords: Dedifferentiated carcinoma; Epithelioid sarcoma; Lung carcinoma; Malignant rhabdoid tumors; SMARCA4; SMARCB1; SWI/SNF.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Carcinoma*
  • DNA Helicases / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Rhabdoid Tumor* / genetics
  • Sarcoma*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • SMARCA4 protein, human
  • DNA Helicases