Small cell lung cancer is a common type of lung cancer that is generally classified within the spectrum of neuroendocrine lung neoplasms. Using high-density cDNA arrays, we profiled gene expression of small cell lung cancers and compared these expression profiles to those of normal bronchial epithelial cells and pulmonary carcinoids, which are classified as benign neuroendocrine tumors. We found the overall expression profiles of two small cell lung cancer cell lines, two microdissected tissue samples of primary small cell lung cancer, and cultured bronchial epithelial cells to be relatively similar to one another, with an average Pearson correlation coefficient for these comparisons of 0.63. However, we found the expression profiles of small cell lung cancers (and bronchial epithelial cells) to be surprisingly dissimilar to those of two samples of pulmonary carcinoid tumors, with an average correlation coefficient for these comparisons of 0.20. We then compared the pulmonary carcinoid expression profiles to those of two samples of infiltrating astrocytic brain cancers (oligodendroglioma and high-grade astrocytoma) and found similarity of gene expression among these four samples (average correlation coefficient, 0.57). These gene expression profiles suggest that small cell lung cancers are closely related to (and possibly derived from) epithelial cells, and that pulmonary carcinoids are related to neural crest-derived brain tumors. More generally, our results suggest that broad profiles of gene expression may reveal similarities and differences between tumors that are not apparent by traditional morphological criteria.
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