How to target small cell lung cancer

Gerhard Hamilton1, Barbara Rath1 and Ernst Ulsperger1

1 Ludwig Boltzmann Cluster of Translational Oncology, A-1090 Vienna, Austria


Gerhard Hamilton, email:

Keywords: small cell lung cancer (SCLC), circulating tumor cells (CTCs), secretome, chitinase 3-like1 (CHI3L1), YKL-40, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), prognostic marker, Inflammation

Received: April 14, 2015 Accepted: August 15, 2015 Published: August 21, 2015


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a highly malignant disease with dismal prognosis. Although great progress has been made in investigating genetic aberrations and putative drivers of this tumor entity, the mechanisms of rapid dissemination and acquisition of drug resistance are not clear. The majority of SCLC cases are characterized by inactivation of the tumor suppressors p53 and retinoblastoma (Rb) and, therefore, interchangeable drivers will be difficult to target successfully. Access to pure cultures of SCLC circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and study of their tumor biology has revealed a number of new potential targets. Most important, expression of chitinase-3-like-1/YKL-40 (CHI3L1) which controls expression of vascular epithelial growth factor (VEGF) and matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9) was newly described in these cells. The process switching CHI3L1-negative SCLC cells to CHI3L1-positive CTCs seems to be associated with cytokines released by inflammatory immune cells. Furthermore, these CTCs were found to promote monocyte-macrophage differentiation, most likely of the M2 tumor-promoting type, recently described to express PD-1 immune checkpoint antigen in SCLC. In conclusion, dissemination of SCLC seems to be linked to conversion of regular tumor cells to highly invasive CHI3L1-positive CTCs, which are protected by immune system suppression. Besides the classical targets VEGF, MMP-9 and PD-1, CHI3L1 constitutes a new possibly drugable molecule to retard down dissemination of SCLC cells, which may be similarly relevant for glioblastoma and other tumor entities.

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