A lepidic gene signature predicts patient prognosis and sensitivity to immunotherapy in lung adenocarcinoma

Genome Med. 2022 Jan 12;14(1):5. doi: 10.1186/s13073-021-01010-w.


Background: Lung adenocarcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer, has a high level of morphologic heterogeneity and is composed of tumor cells of multiple histological subtypes. It has been reported that immune cell infiltration significantly impacts clinical outcomes of patients with lung adenocarcinoma. However, it is unclear whether histologic subtyping can reflect the tumor immune microenvironment, and whether histologic subtyping can be applied for therapeutic stratification of the current standard of care.

Methods: We inferred immune cell infiltration levels using a histological subtype-specific gene expression dataset. From differential gene expression analysis between different histological subtypes, we developed two gene signatures to computationally determine the relative abundance of lepidic and solid components (denoted as the L-score and S-score, respectively) in lung adenocarcinoma samples. These signatures enabled us to investigate the relationship between histological composition and clinical outcomes in lung adenocarcinoma using previously published datasets.

Results: We found dramatic immunological differences among histological subtypes. Differential gene expression analysis showed that the lepidic and solid subtypes could be differentiated based on their gene expression patterns while the other subtypes shared similar gene expression patterns. Our results indicated that higher L-scores were associated with prolonged survival, and higher S-scores were associated with shortened survival. L-scores and S-scores were also correlated with global genomic features such as tumor mutation burdens and driver genomic events. Interestingly, we observed significantly decreased L-scores and increased S-scores in lung adenocarcinoma samples with EGFR gene amplification but not in samples with EGFR gene mutations. In lung cancer cell lines, we observed significant correlations between L-scores and cell sensitivity to a number of targeted drugs including EGFR inhibitors. Moreover, lung cancer patients with higher L-scores were more likely to benefit from immune checkpoint blockade therapy.

Conclusions: Our findings provided further insights into evaluating histology composition in lung adenocarcinoma. The established signatures reflected that lepidic and solid subtypes in lung adenocarcinoma would be associated with prognosis, genomic features, and responses to targeted therapy and immunotherapy. The signatures therefore suggested potential clinical translation in predicting patient survival and treatment responses. In addition, our framework can be applied to other types of cancer with heterogeneous histological subtypes.

Keywords: Drug sensitivity; Gene signature; Genomic alterations; Histology; Immunotherapy; Lung adenocarcinoma; Prognosis; Tumor immune microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung* / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Mutation
  • Prognosis
  • Tumor Microenvironment