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1.  Dysfunctional KEAP1–NRF2 Interaction in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e420.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that positively regulates the expression of genes encoding antioxidants, xenobiotic detoxification enzymes, and drug efflux pumps, and confers cytoprotection against oxidative stress and xenobiotics in normal cells. Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1) negatively regulates NRF2 activity by targeting it to proteasomal degradation. Increased expression of cellular antioxidants and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes has been implicated in resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Methods and Findings
Here we report a systematic analysis of the KEAP1 genomic locus in lung cancer patients and cell lines that revealed deletion, insertion, and missense mutations in functionally important domains of KEAP1 and a very high percentage of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2, suggesting that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 in lung cancer is a common event. Sequencing of KEAP1 in 12 cell lines and 54 non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) samples revealed somatic mutations in KEAP1 in a total of six cell lines and ten tumors at a frequency of 50% and 19%, respectively. All the mutations were within highly conserved amino acid residues located in the Kelch or intervening region domain of the KEAP1 protein, suggesting that these mutations would likely abolish KEAP1 repressor activity. Evaluation of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2 revealed allelic losses in 61% of the NSCLC cell lines and 41% of the tumor samples. Decreased KEAP1 activity in cancer cells induced greater nuclear accumulation of NRF2, causing enhanced transcriptional induction of antioxidants, xenobiotic metabolism enzymes, and drug efflux pumps.
This is the first study to our knowledge to demonstrate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC. Loss of KEAP1 function leading to constitutive activation of NRF2-mediated gene expression in cancer suggests that tumor cells manipulate the NRF2 pathway for their survival against chemotherapeutic agents.
Biallelic inactivation ofKEAP1, a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC, is associated with activation of the NRF2 pathway which leads to expression of genes that contribute to resistance against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. More than 150,000 people in the US alone die every year from this disease, which can be split into two basic types—small cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Four out of five lung cancers are NSCLCs, but both types are mainly caused by smoking. Exposure to chemicals in smoke produces changes (or mutations) in the genetic material of the cells lining the lungs that cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. In more than half the people who develop NSCLC, the cancer has spread out of the lungs before it is diagnosed, and therefore can't be removed surgically. Stage IV NSCLC, as this is known, is usually treated with chemotherapy—toxic chemicals that kill the fast-growing cancer cells. However, only 2% of people with stage IV NSCLC are still alive two years after their diagnosis, mainly because their cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy. They do this by making proteins that destroy cancer drugs (detoxification enzymes) or that pump them out of cells (efflux pumps) and by making antioxidants, chemicals that protect cells against the oxidative damage caused by many chemotherapy agents.
Why Was This Study Done?
To improve the outlook for patients with lung cancer, researchers need to discover exactly how cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy drugs. Detoxification enzymes, efflux pumps, and antioxidants normally protect cells from environmental toxins and from oxidants produced by the chemical processes of life. Their production is regulated by nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2). The activity of this transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other proteins) is controlled by the protein Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1). KEAP1 holds NRF2 in the cytoplasm of the cell (the cytoplasm surrounds the cell's nucleus, where the genetic material is stored) when no oxidants are present and targets it for destruction. When oxidants are present, KEAP1 no longer interacts with NRF2, which moves into the nucleus and induces the expression of the proteins that protect the cell against oxidants and toxins. In this study, the researchers investigated whether changes in KEAP1 might underlie the drug resistance seen in lung cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers looked carefully at the gene encoding KEAP1 in tissue taken from lung tumors and in several lung cancer cell lines—tumor cells that have been grown in a laboratory. They found mutations in parts of KEAP1 known to be important for its function in half the cell lines and a fifth of the tumor samples. They also found that about half of the samples had lost part of one copy of the KEAP1 gene—cells usually have two copies of each gene. Five of the six tumors with KEAP1 mutations had also lost one copy of KEAP1—geneticists call this biallelic inactivation. This means that these tumors should have no functional KEAP1. When the researchers checked this by staining the tumors for NRF2, they found that the tumor cells had more NRF2 than normal cells and that it accumulated in the nucleus. In addition, the tumor cells made more detoxification enzymes, efflux proteins, and antioxidants than normal cells. Finally, the researchers showed that lung cancer cells with KEAP1 mutations were more resistant to chemotherapy drugs than normal lung cells were.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC and suggest that the loss of KEAP1 activity is one way that lung tumors can increase their NRF2 activity and develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. More lung cancer samples need to be examined to confirm this result, and similar studies need to be done in other cancers to see whether loss of KEAP1 activity is a common mechanism by which tumors become resistant to chemotherapy. If such studies confirm that high NRF2 activity (either through mutation or by some other route) is often associated with a poor tumor response to chemotherapy, then the development of NRF2 inhibitors might help to improve treatment outcomes in patients with chemotherapy-resistant tumors.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute information on lung cancer and on cancer treatment
MedlinePlus entries on small cell lung cancer and NSCLC Cancer Research UK information on lung cancer
Wikipedia entries on lung cancer and chemotherapy (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1584412  PMID: 17020408
2.  Relation between smoking history and gene expression profiles in lung adenocarcinomas 
BMC Medical Genomics  2012;5:22.
Lung cancer is the worldwide leading cause of death from cancer. Tobacco usage is the major pathogenic factor, but all lung cancers are not attributable to smoking. Specifically, lung cancer in never-smokers has been suggested to represent a distinct disease entity compared to lung cancer arising in smokers due to differences in etiology, natural history and response to specific treatment regimes. However, the genetic aberrations that differ between smokers and never-smokers’ lung carcinomas remain to a large extent unclear.
Unsupervised gene expression analysis of 39 primary lung adenocarcinomas was performed using Illumina HT-12 microarrays. Results from unsupervised analysis were validated in six external adenocarcinoma data sets (n=687), and six data sets comprising normal airway epithelial or normal lung tissue specimens (n=467). Supervised gene expression analysis between smokers and never-smokers were performed in seven adenocarcinoma data sets, and results validated in the six normal data sets.
Initial unsupervised analysis of 39 adenocarcinomas identified two subgroups of which one harbored all never-smokers. A generated gene expression signature could subsequently identify never-smokers with 79-100% sensitivity in external adenocarcinoma data sets and with 76-88% sensitivity in the normal materials. A notable fraction of current/former smokers were grouped with never-smokers. Intriguingly, supervised analysis of never-smokers versus smokers in seven adenocarcinoma data sets generated similar results. Overlap in classification between the two approaches was high, indicating that both approaches identify a common set of samples from current/former smokers as potential never-smokers. The gene signature from unsupervised analysis included several genes implicated in lung tumorigenesis, immune-response associated pathways, genes previously associated with smoking, as well as marker genes for alveolar type II pneumocytes, while the best classifier from supervised analysis comprised genes strongly associated with proliferation, but also genes previously associated with smoking.
Based on gene expression profiling, we demonstrate that never-smokers can be identified with high sensitivity in both tumor material and normal airway epithelial specimens. Our results indicate that tumors arising in never-smokers, together with a subset of tumors from smokers, represent a distinct entity of lung adenocarcinomas. Taken together, these analyses provide further insight into the transcriptional patterns occurring in lung adenocarcinoma stratified by smoking history.
PMCID: PMC3447685  PMID: 22676229
Lung cancer; Smoking; Gene expression analysis; Adenocarcinoma; EGFR; Never-smokers; Immune response
3.  Whole Exome Re-Sequencing Implicates CCDC38 and Cilia Structure and Function in Resistance to Smoking Related Airflow Obstruction 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(5):e1004314.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading cause of global morbidity and mortality and, whilst smoking remains the single most important risk factor, COPD risk is heritable. Of 26 independent genomic regions showing association with lung function in genome-wide association studies, eleven have been reported to show association with airflow obstruction. Although the main risk factor for COPD is smoking, some individuals are observed to have a high forced expired volume in 1 second (FEV1) despite many years of heavy smoking. We hypothesised that these “resistant smokers” may harbour variants which protect against lung function decline caused by smoking and provide insight into the genetic determinants of lung health. We undertook whole exome re-sequencing of 100 heavy smokers who had healthy lung function given their age, sex, height and smoking history and applied three complementary approaches to explore the genetic architecture of smoking resistance. Firstly, we identified novel functional variants in the “resistant smokers” and looked for enrichment of these novel variants within biological pathways. Secondly, we undertook association testing of all exonic variants individually with two independent control sets. Thirdly, we undertook gene-based association testing of all exonic variants. Our strongest signal of association with smoking resistance for a non-synonymous SNP was for rs10859974 (P = 2.34×10−4) in CCDC38, a gene which has previously been reported to show association with FEV1/FVC, and we demonstrate moderate expression of CCDC38 in bronchial epithelial cells. We identified an enrichment of novel putatively functional variants in genes related to cilia structure and function in resistant smokers. Ciliary function abnormalities are known to be associated with both smoking and reduced mucociliary clearance in patients with COPD. We suggest that genetic influences on the development or function of cilia in the bronchial epithelium may affect growth of cilia or the extent of damage caused by tobacco smoke.
Author Summary
Very large genome-wide association studies in general population cohorts have successfully identified at least 26 genes or gene regions associated with lung function and a number of these also show association with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, these findings explain a small proportion of the heritability of lung function. Although the main risk factor for COPD is smoking, some individuals have normal or good lung function despite many years of heavy smoking. We hypothesised that studying these individuals might tell us more about the genetics of lung health. Re-sequencing of exomes, where all of the variation in the protein-coding portion of the genome can be measured, is a recent approach for the study of low frequency and rare variants. We undertook re-sequencing of the exomes of “resistant smokers” and used publicly available exome data for comparisons. Our findings implicate CCDC38, a gene which has previously shown association with lung function in the general population, and genes involved in cilia structure and lung function as having a role in resistance to smoking.
PMCID: PMC4006731  PMID: 24786987
4.  Genetic variants and risk of lung cancer in never smokers: a genome-wide association study 
The lancet oncology  2010;11(4):321-330.
Lung cancer in individuals who have never smoked tobacco products is an increasing medical and public-health issue. We aimed to unravel the genetic basis of lung cancer in never smokers.
We did a four-stage investigation. First, a genome-wide association study of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) was done with 754 never smokers (377 matched case-control pairs at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA). Second, the top candidate SNPs from the first study were validated in two independent studies among 735 (MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA) and 253 (Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA) never smokers. Third, further replication of the top SNP was done in 530 never smokers (UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA). Fourth, expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) and gene-expression differences were analysed to further elucidate the causal relation between the validated SNPs and the risk of lung cancer in never smokers.
44 top candidate SNPs were identified that might alter the risk of lung cancer in never smokers. rs2352028 at chromosome 13q31.3 was subsequently replicated with an additive genetic model in the four independent studies, with a combined odds ratio of 1·46 (95% CI 1·26–1·70, p=5·94×10−6). A cis eQTL analysis showed there was a strong correlation between genotypes of the replicated SNPs and the transcription level of the gene GPC5 in normal lung tissues (p=1·96×10−4), with the high-risk allele linked with lower expression. Additionally, the transcription level of GPC5 in normal lung tissue was twice that detected in matched lung adenocarcinoma tissue (p=6·75×10−11).
Genetic variants at 13q31.3 alter the expression of GPC5, and are associated with susceptibility to lung cancer in never smokers. Downregulation of GPC5 might contribute to the development of lung cancer in never smokers.
PMCID: PMC2945218  PMID: 20304703
5.  Polymorphisms, Mutations, and Amplification of the EGFR Gene in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancers 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(4):e125.
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene is the prototype member of the type I receptor tyrosine kinase (TK) family and plays a pivotal role in cell proliferation and differentiation. There are three well described polymorphisms that are associated with increased protein production in experimental systems: a polymorphic dinucleotide repeat (CA simple sequence repeat 1 [CA-SSR1]) in intron one (lower number of repeats) and two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the promoter region, −216 (G/T or T/T) and −191 (C/A or A/A). The objective of this study was to examine distributions of these three polymorphisms and their relationships to each other and to EGFR gene mutations and allelic imbalance (AI) in non-small cell lung cancers.
Methods and Findings
We examined the frequencies of the three polymorphisms of EGFR in 556 resected lung cancers and corresponding non-malignant lung tissues from 336 East Asians, 213 individuals of Northern European descent, and seven of other ethnicities. We also studied the EGFR gene in 93 corresponding non-malignant lung tissue samples from European-descent patients from Italy and in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 250 normal healthy US individuals enrolled in epidemiological studies including individuals of European descent, African–Americans, and Mexican–Americans. We sequenced the four exons (18–21) of the TK domain known to harbor activating mutations in tumors and examined the status of the CA-SSR1 alleles (presence of heterozygosity, repeat number of the alleles, and relative amplification of one allele) and allele-specific amplification of mutant tumors as determined by a standardized semiautomated method of microsatellite analysis. Variant forms of SNP −216 (G/T or T/T) and SNP −191 (C/A or A/A) (associated with higher protein production in experimental systems) were less frequent in East Asians than in individuals of other ethnicities (p < 0.001). Both alleles of CA-SSR1 were significantly longer in East Asians than in individuals of other ethnicities (p < 0.001). Expression studies using bronchial epithelial cultures demonstrated a trend towards increased mRNA expression in cultures having the variant SNP −216 G/T or T/T genotypes. Monoallelic amplification of the CA-SSR1 locus was present in 30.6% of the informative cases and occurred more often in individuals of East Asian ethnicity. AI was present in 44.4% (95% confidence interval: 34.1%–54.7%) of mutant tumors compared with 25.9% (20.6%–31.2%) of wild-type tumors (p = 0.002). The shorter allele in tumors with AI in East Asian individuals was selectively amplified (shorter allele dominant) more often in mutant tumors (75.0%, 61.6%–88.4%) than in wild-type tumors (43.5%, 31.8%–55.2%, p = 0.003). In addition, there was a strong positive association between AI ratios of CA-SSR1 alleles and AI of mutant alleles.
The three polymorphisms associated with increased EGFR protein production (shorter CA-SSR1 length and variant forms of SNPs −216 and −191) were found to be rare in East Asians as compared to other ethnicities, suggesting that the cells of East Asians may make relatively less intrinsic EGFR protein. Interestingly, especially in tumors from patients of East Asian ethnicity, EGFR mutations were found to favor the shorter allele of CA-SSR1, and selective amplification of the shorter allele of CA-SSR1 occurred frequently in tumors harboring a mutation. These distinct molecular events targeting the same allele would both be predicted to result in greater EGFR protein production and/or activity. Our findings may help explain to some of the ethnic differences observed in mutational frequencies and responses to TK inhibitors.
Masaharu Nomura and colleagues examine the distribution ofEGFR polymorphisms in different populations and find differences that might explain different responses to tyrosine kinase inhibitors in lung cancer patients.
Editors' Summary
Most cases of lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide—are “non-small cell lung cancer” (NSCLC), which has a very low cure rate. Recently, however, “targeted” therapies have brought new hope to patients with NSCLC. Like all cancers, NSCLC occurs when cells begin to divide uncontrollably because of changes (mutations) in their genetic material. Chemotherapy drugs treat cancer by killing these rapidly dividing cells, but, because some normal tissues are sensitive to these agents, it is hard to kill the cancer completely without causing serious side effects. Targeted therapies specifically attack the changes in cancer cells that allow them to divide uncontrollably, so it might be possible to kill the cancer cells selectively without damaging normal tissues. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGRF) was one of the first molecules for which a targeted therapy was developed. In normal cells, messenger proteins bind to EGFR and activate its “tyrosine kinase,” an enzyme that sticks phosphate groups on tyrosine (an amino acid) in other proteins. These proteins then tell the cell to divide. Alterations to this signaling system drive the uncontrolled growth of some cancers, including NSCLC.
Why Was This Study Done?
Molecules that inhibit the tyrosine kinase activity of EGFR (for example, gefitinib) dramatically shrink some NSCLCs, particularly those in East Asian patients. Tumors shrunk by tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) often (but not always) have mutations in EGFR's tyrosine kinase. However, not all tumors with these mutations respond to TKIs, and other genetic changes—for example, amplification (multiple copies) of the EGFR gene—also affect tumor responses to TKIs. It would be useful to know which genetic changes predict these responses when planning treatments for NSCLC and to understand why the frequency of these changes varies between ethnic groups. In this study, the researchers have examined three polymorphisms—differences in DNA sequences that occur between individuals—in the EGFR gene in people with and without NSCLC. In addition, they have looked for associations between these polymorphisms, which are present in every cell of the body, and the EGFR gene mutations and allelic imbalances (genes occur in pairs but amplification or loss of one copy, or allele, often causes allelic imbalance in tumors) that occur in NSCLCs.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured how often three EGFR polymorphisms (the length of a repeat sequence called CA-SSR1, and two single nucleotide variations [SNPs])—all of which probably affect how much protein is made from the EGFR gene—occurred in normal tissue and NSCLC tissue from East Asians and individuals of European descent. They also looked for mutations in the EGFR tyrosine kinase and allelic imbalance in the tumors, and then determined which genetic variations and alterations tended to occur together in people with the same ethnicity. Among many associations, the researchers found that shorter alleles of CA-SSR1 and the minor forms of the two SNPs occurred less often in East Asians than in individuals of European descent. They also confirmed that EGFR kinase mutations were more common in NSCLCs in East Asians than in European-descent individuals. Furthermore, mutations occurred more often in tumors with allelic imbalance, and in tumors where there was allelic imbalance and an EGFR mutation, the mutant allele was amplified more often than the wild-type allele.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers use these associations between gene variants and tumor-associated alterations to propose a model to explain the ethnic differences in mutational frequencies and responses to TKIs seen in NSCLC. They suggest that because of the polymorphisms in the EGFR gene commonly seen in East Asians, people from this ethnic group make less EGFR protein than people from other ethnic groups. This would explain why, if a threshold level of EGFR is needed to drive cells towards malignancy, East Asians have a high frequency of amplified EGFR tyrosine kinase mutations in their tumors—mutation followed by amplification would be needed to activate EGFR signaling. This model, though speculative, helps to explain some clinical findings, such as the frequency of EGFR mutations and of TKI sensitivity in NSCLCs in East Asians. Further studies of this type in different ethnic groups and in different tumors, as well as with other genes for which targeted therapies are available, should help oncologists provide personalized cancer therapies for their patients.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute information on lung cancer and on cancer treatment for patients and professionals
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entries on NSCLC
Cancer Research UK information for patients about all aspects of lung cancer, including treatment with TKIs
Wikipedia pages on lung cancer, EGFR, and gefitinib (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1876407  PMID: 17455987
6.  Smoking-induced gene expression changes in the bronchial airway are reflected in nasal and buccal epithelium 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:259.
Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death and a significant cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Prior studies have demonstrated that smoking creates a field of molecular injury throughout the airway epithelium exposed to cigarette smoke. We have previously characterized gene expression in the bronchial epithelium of never smokers and identified the gene expression changes that occur in the mainstem bronchus in response to smoking. In this study, we explored relationships in whole-genome gene expression between extrathorcic (buccal and nasal) and intrathoracic (bronchial) epithelium in healthy current and never smokers.
Using genes that have been previously defined as being expressed in the bronchial airway of never smokers (the "normal airway transcriptome"), we found that bronchial and nasal epithelium from non-smokers were most similar in gene expression when compared to other epithelial and nonepithelial tissues, with several antioxidant, detoxification, and structural genes being highly expressed in both the bronchus and nose. Principle component analysis of previously defined smoking-induced genes from the bronchus suggested that smoking had a similar effect on gene expression in nasal epithelium. Gene set enrichment analysis demonstrated that this set of genes was also highly enriched among the genes most altered by smoking in both nasal and buccal epithelial samples. The expression of several detoxification genes was commonly altered by smoking in all three respiratory epithelial tissues, suggesting a common airway-wide response to tobacco exposure.
Our findings support a relationship between gene expression in extra- and intrathoracic airway epithelial cells and extend the concept of a smoking-induced field of injury to epithelial cells that line the mouth and nose. This relationship could potentially be utilized to develop a non-invasive biomarker for tobacco exposure as well as a non-invasive screening or diagnostic tool providing information about individual susceptibility to smoking-induced lung diseases.
PMCID: PMC2435556  PMID: 18513428
7.  Modulation of Cystatin A Expression in Human Airway Epithelium Related to Genotype, Smoking, COPD and Lung Cancer* 
Cancer research  2011;71(7):2572-2581.
Cystatin A (gene: CSTA), is up-regulated in non-small-cell lung cancer(NSCLC) and dysplastic vs normal human bronchial epithelium. In the context that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a small airway epithelium (SAE) disorder, is independently associated with NSCLC(especially squamous cell carcinoma, SCC), but only occurs in a subset of smokers, we hypothesized that genetic variation, smoking and COPD modulate CSTA gene expression levels in SAE, with further up-regulation in SCC. Gene expression was assessed by microarray in SAE of 178 individuals [healthy nonsmokers (n=60), healthy smokers (n=82), and COPD smokers (n=36)], with corresponding large airway epithelium (LAE) data in a subset (n=52). Blood DNA was genotyped by SNP microarray. Twelve SNPs upstream of the CSTA gene were all significantly associated with CSTA SAE gene expression(p<0.04 to 5 × 10 −4). CSTA gene expression levels in SAE were higher in COPD smokers (28.4 ± 2.0) than healthy smokers (19.9 ± 1.4, p<10−3), who in turn had higher levels than nonsmokers(16.1 ± 1.1, p<0.04). CSTA LAE gene expression was also smoking-responsive (p<10−3). Using comparable publicly available NSCLC expression data, CSTA was up-regulated in SCC vs LAE (p<10−2) and down-regulated in adenocarcinoma vs SAE (p <10−7). All phenotypes were associated with significantly different proportional gene expression of CSTA to cathepsins. The data demonstrate that regulation of CSTA expression in human airway epithelium is influenced by genetic variability, smoking, and COPD, and is further up-regulated in SCC, all of which should be taken into account when considering the role of CSTA in NSCLC pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3209453  PMID: 21325429
cystatin; small airway epithelium; gene expression; genotype; COPD
8.  Phase I Metabolic Genes and Risk of Lung Cancer: Multiple Polymorphisms and mRNA Expression 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(5):e5652.
Polymorphisms in genes coding for enzymes that activate tobacco lung carcinogens may generate inter-individual differences in lung cancer risk. Previous studies had limited sample sizes, poor exposure characterization, and a few single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) tested in candidate genes. We analyzed 25 SNPs (some previously untested) in 2101 primary lung cancer cases and 2120 population controls from the Environment And Genetics in Lung cancer Etiology (EAGLE) study from six phase I metabolic genes, including cytochrome P450s, microsomal epoxide hydrolase, and myeloperoxidase. We evaluated the main genotype effects and genotype-smoking interactions in lung cancer risk overall and in the major histology subtypes. We tested the combined effect of multiple SNPs on lung cancer risk and on gene expression. Findings were prioritized based on significance thresholds and consistency across different analyses, and accounted for multiple testing and prior knowledge. Two haplotypes in EPHX1 were significantly associated with lung cancer risk in the overall population. In addition, CYP1B1 and CYP2A6 polymorphisms were inversely associated with adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma risk, respectively. Moreover, the association between CYP1A1 rs2606345 genotype and lung cancer was significantly modified by intensity of cigarette smoking, suggesting an underling dose-response mechanism. Finally, increasing number of variants at CYP1A1/A2 genes revealed significant protection in never smokers and risk in ever smokers. Results were supported by differential gene expression in non-tumor lung tissue samples with down-regulation of CYP1A1 in never smokers and up-regulation in smokers from CYP1A1/A2 SNPs. The significant haplotype associations emphasize that the effect of multiple SNPs may be important despite null single SNP-associations, and warrants consideration in genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Our findings emphasize the necessity of post-GWAS fine mapping and SNP functional assessment to further elucidate cancer risk associations.
PMCID: PMC2682568  PMID: 19479063
9.  Characterizing the Impact of Smoking and Lung Cancer on the Airway Transcriptome Using RNA-Seq 
Cigarette smoke creates a molecular field of injury in epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract. We hypothesized that transcriptome sequencing (RNA-Seq) will enhance our understanding of the field of molecular injury in response to tobacco smoke exposure and lung cancer pathogenesis by identifying gene expression differences not interrogated or accurately measured by microarrays. We sequenced the high-molecular-weight fraction of total RNA (>200 nt) from pooled bronchial airway epithelial cell brushings (n = 3 patients per pool) obtained during bronchoscopy from healthy never smoker (NS) and current smoker (S) volunteers and smokers with (C) and without (NC) lung cancer undergoing lung nodule resection surgery. RNA-Seq libraries were prepared using 2 distinct approaches, one capable of capturing non-polyadenylated RNA (the prototype NuGEN Ovation RNA-Seq protocol) and the other designed to measure only polyadenylated RNA (the standard Illumina mRNA-Seq protocol) followed by sequencing generating approximately 29 million 36 nt reads per pool and approximately 22 million 75 nt paired-end reads per pool, respectively. The NuGEN protocol captured additional transcripts not detected by the Illumina protocol at the expense of reduced coverage of polyadenylated transcripts, while longer read lengths and a paired-end sequencing strategy significantly improved the number of reads that could be aligned to the genome. The aligned reads derived from the two complementary protocols were used to define the compendium of genes expressed in the airway epithelium (n = 20,573 genes). Pathways related to the metabolism of xenobiotics by cytochrome P450, retinol metabolism, and oxidoreductase activity were enriched among genes differentially expressed in smokers, whereas chemokine signaling pathways, cytokine–cytokine receptor interactions, and cell adhesion molecules were enriched among genes differentially expressed in smokers with lung cancer. There was a significant correlation between the RNA-Seq gene expression data and Affymetrix microarray data generated from the same samples (P < 0.001); however, the RNA-Seq data detected additional smoking- and cancer-related transcripts whose expression was were either not interrogated by or was not found to be significantly altered when using microarrays, including smoking-related changes in the inflammatory genes S100A8 and S100A9 and cancer-related changes in MUC5AC and secretoglobin (SCGB3A1). Quantitative real-time PCR confirmed differential expression of select genes and non-coding RNAs within individual samples. These results demonstrate that transcriptome sequencing has the potential to provide new insights into the biology of the airway field of injury associated with smoking and lung cancer. The measurement of both coding and non-coding transcripts by RNA-Seq has the potential to help elucidate mechanisms of response to tobacco smoke and to identify additional biomarkers of lung cancer risk and novel targets for chemoprevention.
PMCID: PMC3694393  PMID: 21636547
10.  Bronchial airway gene expression in smokers with lung or head and neck cancer 
Cancer Medicine  2014;3(2):322-336.
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of cancers of the respiratory tract, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and head and neck cancer (HNC). In order to better understand carcinogenesis of the lung and upper airways, we have compared the gene expression profiles of tumor-distant, histologically normal bronchial biopsy specimens obtained from current smokers with NSCLC or HNC (SC, considered as a single group), as well as nonsmokers (NS) and smokers without cancer (SNC). RNA from a total of 97 biopsies was used for gene expression profiling (Affymetrix HG-U133 Plus 2.0 array). Differentially expressed genes were used to compare NS, SNC, and SC, and functional analysis was carried out using Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA). Smoking-related cancer of the respiratory tract was found to affect the expression of genes encoding xenobiotic biotransformation proteins, as well as proteins associated with crucial inflammation/immunity pathways and other processes that protect the airway from the chemicals in cigarette smoke or contribute to carcinogenesis. Finally, we used the prediction analysis for microarray (PAM) method to identify gene signatures of cigarette smoking and cancer, and uncovered a 15-gene signature that distinguished between SNC and SC with an accuracy of 83%. Thus, gene profiling of histologically normal bronchial biopsy specimens provided insight into cigarette-induced carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract and gene signatures of cancer in smokers.
PMCID: PMC3987082  PMID: 24497500
Bronchial biopsy; cigarette smoking; gene expression microarrays; head and neck cancer; non-small cell lung cancer
11.  Aquaporin 5 Polymorphisms and Rate of Lung Function Decline in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14226.
Aquaporin-5 (AQP5) can cause mucus overproduction and lower lung function. Genetic variants in the AQP5 gene might be associated with rate of lung function decline in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in AQP5 were genotyped in 429 European American individuals with COPD randomly selected from the NHLBI Lung Health Study. Mean annual decline in FEV1 % predicted, assessed over five years, was calculated as a linear regression slope, adjusting for potential covariates and stratified by smoking status. Constructs containing the wildtype allele and risk allele of the coding SNP N228K were generated using site-directed mutagenesis, and transfected into HBE-16 (human bronchial epithelial cell line). AQP5 abundance and localization were assessed by immunoblots and confocal immunofluoresence under control, shear stress and cigarette smoke extract (CSE 10%) exposed conditions to test for differential expression or localization.
Among continuous smokers, three of the five SNPs tested showed significant associations (0.02>P>0.004) with rate of lung function decline; no associations were observed among the group of intermittent or former smokers. Haplotype tests revealed multiple association signals (0.012>P>0.0008) consistent with the single-SNP results. In HBE16 cells, shear stress and CSE led to a decrease in AQP5 abundance in the wild-type, but not in the N228K AQP5 plasmid.
Polymorphisms in AQP5 were associated with rate of lung function decline in continuous smokers with COPD. A missense mutation modulates AQP-5 expression in response to cigarette smoke extract and shear stress. These results suggest that AQP5 may be an important candidate gene for COPD.
PMCID: PMC2997058  PMID: 21151978
12.  Lung Cancer Occurrence in Never-Smokers: An Analysis of 13 Cohorts and 22 Cancer Registry Studies  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(9):e185.
Better information on lung cancer occurrence in lifelong nonsmokers is needed to understand gender and racial disparities and to examine how factors other than active smoking influence risk in different time periods and geographic regions.
Methods and Findings
We pooled information on lung cancer incidence and/or death rates among self-reported never-smokers from 13 large cohort studies, representing over 630,000 and 1.8 million persons for incidence and mortality, respectively. We also abstracted population-based data for women from 22 cancer registries and ten countries in time periods and geographic regions where few women smoked. Our main findings were: (1) Men had higher death rates from lung cancer than women in all age and racial groups studied; (2) male and female incidence rates were similar when standardized across all ages 40+ y, albeit with some variation by age; (3) African Americans and Asians living in Korea and Japan (but not in the US) had higher death rates from lung cancer than individuals of European descent; (4) no temporal trends were seen when comparing incidence and death rates among US women age 40–69 y during the 1930s to contemporary populations where few women smoke, or in temporal comparisons of never-smokers in two large American Cancer Society cohorts from 1959 to 2004; and (5) lung cancer incidence rates were higher and more variable among women in East Asia than in other geographic areas with low female smoking.
These comprehensive analyses support claims that the death rate from lung cancer among never-smokers is higher in men than in women, and in African Americans and Asians residing in Asia than in individuals of European descent, but contradict assertions that risk is increasing or that women have a higher incidence rate than men. Further research is needed on the high and variable lung cancer rates among women in Pacific Rim countries.
Michael Thun and colleagues pooled and analyzed comprehensive data on lung cancer incidence and death rates among never-smokers to examine what factors other than active smoking affect lung cancer risk.
Editors' Summary
Every year, more than 1.4 million people die from lung cancer, a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. In the US alone, more than 161,000 people will die from lung cancer this year. Like all cancers, lung cancer occurs when cells begin to divide uncontrollably because of changes in their genes. The main trigger for these changes in lung cancer is exposure to the chemicals in cigarette smoke—either directly through smoking cigarettes or indirectly through exposure to secondhand smoke. Eighty-five to 90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by exposure to cigarette smoke and, on average, current smokers are 15 times more likely to die from lung cancer than lifelong nonsmokers (never smokers). Furthermore, a person's cumulative lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is related to how much they smoke, to how many years they are a smoker, and—if they give up smoking—to the age at which they stop smoking.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because lung cancer is so common, even the small fraction of lung cancer that occurs in lifelong nonsmokers represents a large number of people. For example, about 20,000 of this year's US lung cancer deaths will be in never-smokers. However, very little is known about how age, sex, or race affects the incidence (the annual number of new cases of diseases in a population) or death rates from lung cancer among never-smokers. A better understanding of the patterns of lung cancer incidence and death rates among never-smokers could provide useful information about the factors other than cigarette smoke that increase the likelihood of not only never-smokers, but also former smokers and current smokers developing lung cancer. In this study, therefore, the researchers pooled and analyzed a large amount of information about lung cancer incidence and death rates among never smokers to examine what factors other than active smoking affect lung cancer risk.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed information on lung cancer incidence and/or death rates among nearly 2.5 million self-reported never smokers (men and women) from 13 large studies investigating the health of people in North America, Europe, and Asia. They also analyzed similar information for women taken from cancer registries in ten countries at times when very few women were smokers (for example, the US in the late 1930s). The researchers' detailed statistical analyses reveal, for example, that lung cancer death rates in African Americans and in Asians living in Korea and Japan (but not among Asians living in the US) are higher than those in people of the European continental ancestry group. They also show that men have higher death rates from lung cancer than women irrespective of racial group, but that women aged 40–59 years have a slightly higher incidence of lung cancer than men of a similar age. This difference disappears at older ages. Finally, an analysis of lung cancer incidence and death rates at different times during the past 70 years shows no evidence of an increase in the lung cancer burden among never smokers over time.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although some of the findings described above have been hinted at in previous, smaller studies, these and other findings provide a much more accurate picture of lung cancer incidence and death rates among never smokers. Most importantly the underlying data used in these analyses are now freely available and should provide an excellent resource for future studies of lung cancer in never smokers.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals about all aspects of lung cancer and information on smoking and cancer (in English and Spanish)
Links to other US-based resources dealing with lung cancer are provided by MedlinePlus (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK provides key facts about the link between lung cancer and smoking and information about all other aspects of lung cancer
PMCID: PMC2531137  PMID: 18788891
13.  Association of Nrf2 Polymorphism Haplotypes with Acute Lung Injury Phenotypes in Inbred Strains of Mice 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2015;22(4):325-338.
Aims: Nrf2 is a master transcription factor for antioxidant response element (ARE)-mediated cytoprotective gene induction. A protective role for pulmonary Nrf2 was determined in model oxidative disorders, including hyperoxia-induced acute lung injury (ALI). To obtain additional insights into the function and genetic regulation of Nrf2, we assessed functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of Nrf2 in inbred mouse strains and tested whether sequence variation is associated with hyperoxia susceptibility. Results: Nrf2 SNPs were compiled from publicly available databases and by re-sequencing DNA from inbred strains. Hierarchical clustering of Nrf2 SNPs categorized the strains into three major haplotypes. Hyperoxia susceptibility was greater in haplotypes 2 and 3 strains than in haplotype 1 strains. A promoter SNP −103 T/C adding an Sp1 binding site in haplotype 2 diminished promoter activation basally and under hyperoxia. Haplotype 3 mice bearing nonsynonymous coding SNPs located in (1862 A/T, His543Gln) and adjacent to (1417 T/C, Thr395Ile) the Neh1 domain showed suppressed nuclear transactivation of pulmonary Nrf2 relative to other strains, and overexpression of haplotype 3 Nrf2 showed lower ARE responsiveness than overexpression of haplotype 1 Nrf2 in airway cells. Importantly, we found a significant correlation of Nrf2 haplotypes and hyperoxic lung injury phenotypes. Innovation and Conclusion: The results indicate significant influence of Nrf2 polymorphisms and haplotypes on gene function and hyperoxia susceptibility. Our findings further support Nrf2 as a genetic determinant in ALI pathogenesis and provide useful tools for investigators who use mouse strains classified by Nrf2 haplotypes to elucidate the role for Nrf2 in oxidative disorders. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 22, 325–338.
PMCID: PMC4298158  PMID: 25268541
14.  Gene expression subtraction of non-cancerous lung from smokers and non-smokers with adenocarcinoma, as a predictor for smokers developing lung cancer 
Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer death in developed countries. Adenocarcinoma is becoming the most common form of lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer. Long-term cigarettes smoking may be characterized by genetic alteration and diffuse injury of the airways surface, named field cancerization, while cancer in non-smokers is usually clonally derived. Detecting specific genes expression changes in non-cancerous lung in smokers with adenocarcinoma may give us instrument for predicting smokers who are going to develop this malignancy.
We described the gene expression in non-cancerous lungs from 21 smoker patients with lung adenocarcinoma and compare it to gene expression in non-cancerous lung tissue from 10 non-smokers with primary lung adenocarcinoma.
Total RNA was isolated from peripheral non-cancerous lung tissue. The cDNA was hybridized to the U133A GeneChip array. Hierarchical clustering analysis on genes obtained from smokers and non-smokers, after subtracting were exported to the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software for further analysis.
The genes subtraction resulted in disclosure of 36 genes with high score. They were subsequently mapped and sorted based on location, cellular components, and biochemical activity. The gene functional analysis disclosed 20 genes, which are involved in cancer process (P = 7.05E-5 to 2.92E-2).
Detected genes may serve as a predictor for smokers who may be at high risk of developing lung cancer. In addition, since these genes originating from non-cancerous lung, which is the major area of the lungs, a sample from an induced sputum may represent it.
PMCID: PMC2570656  PMID: 18811983
15.  Deletion of Keap1 in the Lung Attenuates Acute Cigarette Smoke–Induced Oxidative Stress and Inflammation 
Exposure to cigarette smoke (CS) is the primary factor associated with the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). CS increases the level of oxidants in the lungs, resulting in a depletion of antioxidants, which promotes oxidative stress and the destruction of alveolar tissue. In response to CS, pulmonary epithelial cells counteract increased levels of oxidants by activating Nrf2-dependent pathways to augment the expression of detoxification and antioxidant enzymes, thereby protecting the lung from injury. We hypothesize that increasing the pathways activated by Nrf2 will afford protection against CS-induced lung damage. To this end we have developed a novel mouse model in which the cytosolic inhibitor of Nrf2, Keap1, is genetically deleted in Clara cells, which predominate in the upper airways in mice. Deletion of Keap1 in Clara cells resulted in increased expression of Nrf2-dependent genes, such as Nqo1 and Gclm, as determined by microarray analysis and quantitative PCR. Deletion of Keap1 in airway epithelium decreased Keap1 protein levels and significantly increased the total level of glutathione in the lungs. Increased Nrf2 activation protected Clara cells against oxidative stress ex vivo and attenuated oxidative stress and CS-induced inflammation in vivo. Expression of KEAP1 was also decreased in human epithelial cells through siRNA transfection, which increased the expression of Nrf2-dependent genes and attenuated oxidative stress. In conclusion, activating Nrf2 pathways in tissue-specific Keap1 knockout mice represents an important genetic approach against oxidant-induced lung damage.
PMCID: PMC2874439  PMID: 19520915
cigarette smoke; Nrf2; Keap1; inflammation; oxidative stress
16.  Polymorphisms of NRF2 gene correlated with decreased FEV1 in lung cancers of smokers 
Biomedical Reports  2013;1(3):484-488.
The metabolism of xenobiotics plays a fundamental role in smoking-related lung function loss and the development of pulmonary disease. An NRF2-dependent response is a key protective mechanism against oxidative stress. In the present study, we evaluated the effect of single nucleotide polymorphisms in NRF2 genes on the level of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) in lung cancers of smokers. We genotyped the status of NRF2 gene polymorphisms in 209 surgically treated lung cancer cases of smokers using TaqMan polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The results demonstrated the mean FEV1 in patients with rs2364723 C/C, C/G and G/G to be 2143.9, 2294.2 and 2335.4 ml, respectively, and there was a tendency towards lower FEV1 in C/C phenotype (P=0.0944). The mean FEV1 was significantly lower in the C/C phenotype (2143.9±566.0 ml) compared to C/G or G/G (2308.9±642.9 ml, P=0.05). The mean FEV1 in patients with rs6726395 A/A, G/A and G/G was 66.7, 71.2 and 72.3%, respectively, and there was a significant difference between A/A and G/G phenotype (P=0.043). A tendency towards a lower mean FEV1 in A/A phenotype (66.7±11.7%) was observed when compared to A/G or G/G (71.9±10.7%, P=0.07). This study demonstrated that an NRF2-dependent response to cigarette smoking has the potential to affect FEV1 decrease in a lung cancer population. In conclusion, the results have shown that NRF2 genetic changes may play a role in FEV1 loss in smokers with lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3917728  PMID: 24648973
nuclear factor (erythroid derived 2)-like 2; polymorphism; NRF2; forced expiratory volume in 1 second; smoker
17.  SIRT1 pathway dysregulation in the smoke-exposed airway epithelium and lung tumor tissue 
Cancer research  2012;72(22):5702-5711.
Cigarette smoke produces a molecular “field of injury” in epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract. However, the specific signaling pathways that are altered in the airway of smokers and the signaling processes responsible for the transition from smoking-induced airway damage to lung cancer remain unknown. In this study, we use a genomic approach to study the signaling processes associated with tobacco smoke exposure and lung cancer. First, we developed and validated pathway-specific gene expression signatures in bronchial airway epithelium that reflect activation of signaling pathways relevant to tobacco-exposure including ATM, BCL2, GPX1, NOS2, IKBKB, and SIRT1. Using these profiles and four independent gene expression datasets, we found that SIRT1 activity is significantly up-regulated in cytologically normal bronchial airway epithelial cells from active smokers compared to non-smokers. In contrast, this activity is strikingly down-regulated in non-small cell lung cancer. This pattern of signaling modulation was unique to SIRT1, and down-regulation of SIRT1 activity is confined to tumors from smokers. Decreased activity of SIRT1 was validated using genomic analyses of mouse models of lung cancer and biochemical testing of SIRT1 activity in patient lung tumors. Together, our findings indicate a role of SIRT1 in response to smoke and a potential role in repressing lung cancer. Further, our findings suggest that the airway gene-expression signatures derived in this study can provide novel insights into signaling pathways altered in the “field of inury” induced by tobacco smoke and thus may impact strategies for prevention of tobacco-related lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC4053174  PMID: 22986747
18.  Genetic variability in DNA repair and cell cycle control pathway genes and risk of smoking-related lung cancer 
Molecular carcinogenesis  2011;51(Suppl 1):E11-E20.
DNA repair and cell cycle control play an important role in the repair of DNA damage caused by cigarette smoking. Given this role, functionally relevant single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes in these pathways may well affect the risk of smoking-related lung cancer. We examined the relationship between 240 SNPs in DNA repair and cell cycle control pathway genes and lung cancer risk in a case-control study of white current and ex-cigarette smokers (722 cases and 929 controls). Additive, dominant and recessive genetic models were evaluated for each SNP. A genetic risk summary score was also constructed. Odds ratios (OR) for lung cancer risk and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were estimated using logistic regression models. Thirty-eight SNPs were associated with lung cancer risk in our study population at P<0.05. The strongest associations were observed for rs2074508 in GTF2H4 (Padditive=0.003), rs10500298 in LIG1 (Precessive=2.7×10−4), rs747658 and rs3219073 in PARP1 (rs747658: Padditive=5.8×10−5; rs3219073: Padditive=4.6×10−5), and rs1799782 and rs3213255 in XRCC1 (rs1799782: Pdominant=0.006; rs3213255: Precessive=0.004). Compared to individuals with first quartile (lowest) risk summary scores, individuals with third and fourth quartile summary score results were at increased risk for lung cancer (OR: 2.21, 95% CI: 1.66–2.95 and OR: 3.44, 95% CI: 2.58–4.59, respectively; Ptrend<0.0001). Our data suggests that variation in DNA repair and cell cycle control pathway genes is associated with smoking-related lung cancer risk. Additionally, combining genotype information for SNPs in these pathways may assist in classifying current and ex-cigarette smokers according to lung cancer risk.
PMCID: PMC3289753  PMID: 21976407
SNP; case-control; lung cancer
19.  A Functional Polymorphism in the 3'-UTR of PXR Interacts with Smoking to Increase Lung Cancer Risk in Southern and Eastern Chinese Smoker 
Pregnane X receptor (PXR) is an important member of the nuclear receptor superfamily that copes with various endobiotic and xenobiotic stimuli, such as carcinogens by regulating an array of environmental response genes. Low PXR expression has been shown to promote tumor initiation and metastasis. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether the single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of PXR could alter lung cancer susceptibility in Chinese by affecting the function or expression of PXR. We genotyped three putatively functional SNPs of PXR (i.e., rs3814055C>T, rs3732360C>T, and rs3814058C>T) and analyzed their associations with lung cancer risk in a two-stage case-control study with a total of 1559 lung cancer cases and 1679 controls in the southern and eastern Chinese population. We found that in comparison to the rs3814058CC common genotype, the rs3814058T variants (TC/TT) which is located in the 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR) of PXR conferred a consistently increased risk of lung cancer in both the southern Chinese (odd ratios (OR) = 1.24, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.03−1.49) and the eastern Chinese (OR = 1.33, 95% CI = 1.02−1.75). The variants also significantly interacted with smoking on increasing cancer risk (p = 0.023). Moreover, lung cancer tissues with the rs3814058T variants showed significantly lower PXR expression than those with rs3814058CC genotype in the smokers (p = 0.041). These results suggested that the rs3814058C>T polymorphism of PXR interacts with smoking on increasing lung cancer risk in Chinese smokers, which might be a functional genetic biomarker for lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC4227172  PMID: 25268617
pregnane X receptor (PXR); lung cancer; susceptibility
20.  DNA repair gene polymorphisms and tobacco smoking in the risk for colorectal adenomas 
Carcinogenesis  2011;32(6):882-887.
DNA damage is thought to play a critical role in the development of colorectal adenoma. Variation in DNA repair genes may alter their capacity to correct endogenous and exogenous DNA damage. We explored the association between common single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in DNA repair genes and adenoma risk with a case–control study nested in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial. A total of 1338 left sided, advanced colorectal adenoma cases and 1503 matched controls free of left-sided polyps were included in the study. Using DNA extracted from blood, 3144 tag SNPs in 149 DNA repair genes were successfully genotyped. Among Caucasians, 30 SNPs were associated with adenoma risk at P < 0.01, with four SNPs remaining significant after gene-based adjustment for multiple testing. The most significant finding was for a non-synonymous SNP (rs9350) in Exonuclease-1 (EXO1) [odds ratio (OR) = 1.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.11–1.51, P = 0.001)], which was predicted to be damaging using bioinformatics methods. However, the association was limited to smokers with a strong risk for current smokers (OR = 2.15, 95% CI = 1.27–3.65) and an intermediate risk for former smokers (OR = 1.45, 95% CI = 1.14–1.82) and no association for never smokers (OR = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.76–1.25) (Pinteraction = 0.002). Among the top findings, an SNP (rs17503908) in ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) was inversely related to adenoma risk (OR = 0.75, 95% CI = 0.63–0.91). The association was restricted to never smokers (OR = 0.55, 95% CI = 0.40–0.76) with no increased risk observed among smokers (OR = 0.89, 95% CI = 0.70–1.13) (Pinteraction = 0.006). This large comprehensive study, which evaluated all presently known DNA repair genes, suggests that polymorphisms in EXO1 and ATM may be associated with risk for advanced colorectal adenoma with the associations modified by tobacco-smoking status.
PMCID: PMC3106441  PMID: 21504893
21.  Integrative Genomic Analyses Identify BRF2 as a Novel Lineage-Specific Oncogene in Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000315.
William Lockwood and colleagues show that the focal amplification of a gene, BRF2, on Chromosome 8p12 plays a key role in squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.
Traditionally, non-small cell lung cancer is treated as a single disease entity in terms of systemic therapy. Emerging evidence suggests the major subtypes—adenocarcinoma (AC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to therapy. Identification of the molecular differences between these tumor types will have a significant impact in designing novel therapies that can improve the treatment outcome.
Methods and Findings
We used an integrative genomics approach, combing high-resolution comparative genomic hybridization and gene expression microarray profiles, to compare AC and SqCC tumors in order to uncover alterations at the DNA level, with corresponding gene transcription changes, which are selected for during development of lung cancer subtypes. Through the analysis of multiple independent cohorts of clinical tumor samples (>330), normal lung tissues and bronchial epithelial cells obtained by bronchial brushing in smokers without lung cancer, we identified the overexpression of BRF2, a gene on Chromosome 8p12, which is specific for development of SqCC of lung. Genetic activation of BRF2, which encodes a RNA polymerase III (Pol III) transcription initiation factor, was found to be associated with increased expression of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) that are involved in processes essential for cell growth, such as RNA splicing. Ectopic expression of BRF2 in human bronchial epithelial cells induced a transformed phenotype and demonstrates downstream oncogenic effects, whereas RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown suppressed growth and colony formation of SqCC cells overexpressing BRF2, but not AC cells. Frequent activation of BRF2 in >35% preinvasive bronchial carcinoma in situ, as well as in dysplastic lesions, provides evidence that BRF2 expression is an early event in cancer development of this cell lineage.
This is the first study, to our knowledge, to show that the focal amplification of a gene in Chromosome 8p12, plays a key role in squamous cell lineage specificity of the disease. Our data suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 represents a unique mechanism of SqCC lung tumorigenesis through the increase of Pol III-mediated transcription. It can serve as a marker for lung SqCC and may provide a novel target for therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer-related death. Every year, 1.3 million people die from this disease, which is mainly caused by smoking. Most cases of lung cancer are “non-small cell lung cancers” (NSCLCs). Like all cancers, NSCLC starts when cells begin to divide uncontrollably and to move round the body (metastasize) because of changes (mutations) in their genes. These mutations are often in “oncogenes,” genes that, when activated, encourage cell division. Oncogenes can be activated by mutations that alter the properties of the proteins they encode or by mutations that increase the amount of protein made from them, such as gene amplification (an increase in the number of copies of a gene). If NSCLC is diagnosed before it has spread from the lungs (stage I disease), it can be surgically removed and many patients with stage I NSCLC survive for more than 5 years after their diagnosis. Unfortunately, in more than half of patients, NSCLC has metastasized before it is diagnosed. This stage IV NSCLC can be treated with chemotherapy (toxic chemicals that kill fast-growing cancer cells) but only 2% of patients with stage IV lung cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Traditionally, NSCLC has been regarded as a single disease in terms of treatment. However, emerging evidence suggests that the two major subtypes of NSCLC—adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to chemotherapy. Adenocarcinoma and SqCC start in different types of lung cell and experts think that for each cell type in the body, specific combinations of mutations interact with the cell type's own unique characteristics to provide the growth and survival advantage needed for cancer development. If this is true, then identifying the molecular differences between adenocarcinoma and SqCC could provide targets for more effective therapies for these major subtypes of NSCLC. Amplification of a chromosome region called 8p12 is very common in NSCLC, which suggests that an oncogene that drives lung cancer development is present in this chromosome region. In this study, the researchers investigate this possibility by looking for an amplified gene in the 8p12 chromosome region that makes increased amounts of protein in lung SqCC but not in lung adenocarcinoma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a technique called comparative genomic hybridization to show that focal regions of Chromosome 8p are amplified in about 40% of lung SqCCs, but that DNA loss in this region is the most common alteration in lung adenocarcinomas. Ten genes in the 8p12 chromosome region were expressed at higher levels in the SqCC samples that they examined than in adenocarcinoma samples, they report, and overexpression of five of these genes correlated with amplification of the 8p12 region in the SqCC samples. Only one of the genes—BRF2—was more highly expressed in squamous carcinoma cells than in normal bronchial epithelial cells (the cell type that lines the tubes that take air into the lungs and from which SqCC develops). Artificially induced expression of BRF2 in bronchial epithelial cells made these normal cells behave like tumor cells, whereas reduction of BRF2 expression in squamous carcinoma cells made them behave more like normal bronchial epithelial cells. Finally, BRF2 was frequently activated in two early stages of squamous cell carcinoma—bronchial carcinoma in situ and dysplastic lesions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Together, these findings show that the focal amplification of chromosome region 8p12 plays a role in the development of lung SqCC but not in the development of lung adenocarcinoma, the other major subtype of NSCLC. These findings identify BRF2 (which encodes a RNA polymerase III transcription initiation factor, a protein that is required for the synthesis of RNA molecules that help to control cell growth) as a lung SqCC-specific oncogene and uncover a unique mechanism for lung SqCC development. Most importantly, these findings suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 could be used as a marker for lung SqCC, which might facilitate the early detection of this type of NSCLC and that BRF2 might provide a new target for therapy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and professionals about all aspects of lung cancer, including information on non-small cell carcinoma (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information about lung cancer and information on how cancer starts
MedlinePlus has links to other resources about lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2910599  PMID: 20668658
22.  Regulatory Nexus of Synthesis and Degradation Deciphers Cellular Nrf2 Expression Levels 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(12):2402-2412.
Transcription factor Nrf2 (NF-E2-related factor 2) is essential for oxidative and electrophilic stress responses. While it has been well characterized that Nrf2 activity is tightly regulated at the protein level through proteasomal degradation via Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1)-mediated ubiquitination, not much attention has been paid to the supply side of Nrf2, especially regulation of Nrf2 gene transcription. Here we report that manipulation of Nrf2 transcription is effective in changing the final Nrf2 protein level and activity of cellular defense against oxidative stress even in the presence of Keap1 and under efficient Nrf2 degradation, determined using genetically engineered mouse models. In excellent agreement with this finding, we found that minor A/A homozygotes of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the human NRF2 upstream promoter region (rs6721961) exhibited significantly diminished NRF2 gene expression and, consequently, an increased risk of lung cancer, especially those who had ever smoked. Our results support the notion that in addition to control over proteasomal degradation and derepression from degradation/repression, the transcriptional level of the Nrf2 gene acts as another important regulatory point to define cellular Nrf2 levels. These results thus verify the critical importance of human SNPs that influence the levels of transcription of the NRF2 gene for future personalized medicine.
PMCID: PMC3700104  PMID: 23572560
23.  Multiple Independent Loci at Chromosome 15q25.1 Affect Smoking Quantity: a Meta-Analysis and Comparison with Lung Cancer and COPD 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(8):e1001053.
Recently, genetic association findings for nicotine dependence, smoking behavior, and smoking-related diseases converged to implicate the chromosome 15q25.1 region, which includes the CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4 cholinergic nicotinic receptor subunit genes. In particular, association with the nonsynonymous CHRNA5 SNP rs16969968 and correlates has been replicated in several independent studies. Extensive genotyping of this region has suggested additional statistically distinct signals for nicotine dependence, tagged by rs578776 and rs588765. One goal of the Consortium for the Genetic Analysis of Smoking Phenotypes (CGASP) is to elucidate the associations among these markers and dichotomous smoking quantity (heavy versus light smoking), lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We performed a meta-analysis across 34 datasets of European-ancestry subjects, including 38,617 smokers who were assessed for cigarettes-per-day, 7,700 lung cancer cases and 5,914 lung-cancer-free controls (all smokers), and 2,614 COPD cases and 3,568 COPD-free controls (all smokers). We demonstrate statistically independent associations of rs16969968 and rs588765 with smoking (mutually adjusted p-values<10−35 and <10−8 respectively). Because the risk alleles at these loci are negatively correlated, their association with smoking is stronger in the joint model than when each SNP is analyzed alone. Rs578776 also demonstrates association with smoking after adjustment for rs16969968 (p<10−6). In models adjusting for cigarettes-per-day, we confirm the association between rs16969968 and lung cancer (p<10−20) and observe a nominally significant association with COPD (p = 0.01); the other loci are not significantly associated with either lung cancer or COPD after adjusting for rs16969968. This study provides strong evidence that multiple statistically distinct loci in this region affect smoking behavior. This study is also the first report of association between rs588765 (and correlates) and smoking that achieves genome-wide significance; these SNPs have previously been associated with mRNA levels of CHRNA5 in brain and lung tissue.
Author Summary
Nicotine binds to cholinergic nicotinic receptors, which are composed of a variety of subunits. Genetic studies for smoking behavior and smoking-related diseases have implicated a genomic region that encodes the alpha5, alpha3, and beta4 subunits. We examined genetic data across this region for over 38,000 smokers, a subset of which had been assessed for lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We demonstrate strong evidence that there are at least two statistically independent loci in this region that affect risk for heavy smoking. One of these loci represents a change in the protein structure of the alpha5 subunit. This work is also the first to report strong evidence of association between smoking and a group of genetic variants that are of biological interest because of their links to expression of the alpha5 cholinergic nicotinic receptor subunit gene. These advances in understanding the genetic influences on smoking behavior are important because of the profound public health burdens caused by smoking and nicotine addiction.
PMCID: PMC2916847  PMID: 20700436
24.  Decline in NRF2-regulated Antioxidants in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Lungs Due to Loss of Its Positive Regulator, DJ-1 
Rationale: Oxidative stress is a key contributor in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) pathogenesis caused by cigarette smoking. NRF2, a redox-sensitive transcription factor, dissociates from its inhibitor, KEAP1, to induce antioxidant expression that inhibits oxidative stress.
Objectives: To determine the link between severity of COPD, oxidative stress, and NRF2-dependent antioxidant levels in the peripheral lung tissue of patients with COPD.
Methods: We assessed the expression of NRF2, NRF2-dependent antioxidants, regulators of NRF2 activity, and oxidative damage in non-COPD (smokers and former smokers) and smoker COPD lungs (mild and advanced). Cigarette smoke–exposed human lung epithelial cells (Beas2B) and mice were used to understand the mechanisms.
Measurements and Main Results: When compared with non-COPD lungs, the COPD patient lungs showed (1) marked decline in NRF2-dependent antioxidants and glutathione levels, (2) increased oxidative stress markers, (3) significant decrease in NRF2 protein with no change in NRF2 mRNA levels, and (4) similar KEAP1 but significantly decreased DJ-1 levels (a protein that stabilizes NRF2 protein by impairing KEAP1-dependent proteasomal degradation of NRF2). Exposure of Bea2B cells to cigarette smoke caused oxidative modification and enhanced proteasomal degradation of DJ-1 protein. Disruption of DJ-1 in mouse lungs, mouse embryonic fibroblasts, and Beas2B cells lowered NRF2 protein stability and impaired antioxidant induction in response to cigarette smoke. Interestingly, targeting KEAP1 by siRNA or the small-molecule activator sulforaphane restored induction of NRF2-dependent antioxidants in DJ-1–disrupted cells in response to cigarette smoke.
Conclusions: NRF2-dependent antioxidants and DJ-1 expression was negatively associated with severity of COPD. Therapy directed toward enhancing NRF2-regulated antioxidants may be a novel strategy for attenuating the effects of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of COPD.
PMCID: PMC2542433  PMID: 18556627
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; NRF2; DJ-1; oxidative stress; antioxidants
25.  Putative EPHX1 Enzyme Activity Is Related with Risk of Lung and Upper Aerodigestive Tract Cancers: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e14749.
EPHX1 is a key enzyme in metabolizing some exogenous carcinogens such as products of cigarette-smoking. Two functional polymorphisms in the EPHX1 gene, Tyr113His and His139Arg can alter the enzyme activity, suggesting their possible association with carcinogenesis risk, particularly of some tobacco-related cancers.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis was performed of available studies on these two polymorphisms and cancer risk published up to November 2010, consisting of 84 studies (31144 cases and 42439 controls) for Tyr113His and 77 studies (28496 cases and 38506 controls) for His139Arg primarily focused on lung cancer, upper aerodigestive tract (UADT) cancers (including oral, pharynx, larynx and esophagus cancers), colorectal cancer or adenoma, bladder cancer and breast cancer. Results showed that Y113H low activity allele (H) was significantly associated with decreased risk of lung cancer (OR = 0.88, 95%CI = 0.80–0.96) and UADT cancers (OR = 0.86, 95%CI = 0.77–0.97) and H139R high activity allele (R) with increased risk of lung cancer (OR = 1.18, 95%CI = 1.04–1.33) but not of UADT cancers (OR = 1.05, 95%CI = 0.93–1.17). Pooled analysis of lung and UADT cancers revealed that low EPHX1 enzyme activity, predicted by the combination of Y113H and H139R showed decreased risk of these cancers (OR = 0.83, 95%CI = 0.75–0.93) whereas high EPHX1 activity increased risk of the cancers (OR = 1.20, 95%CI = 0.98–1.46). Furthermore, modest difference for the risk of lung and UADT cancers was found between cigarette smokers and nonsmokers both in single SNP analyses (low activity allele H: OR = 0.77/0.85 for smokers/nonsmokers; high activity allele R: OR = 1.20/1.09 for smokers/nonsmokers) and in combined double SNP analyses (putative low activity: OR = 0.73/0.88 for smokers/nonsmokers; putative high activity: OR = 1.02/0.93 for smokers/ nonsmokers).
Putative low EPHX1 enzyme activity may have a potential protective effect on tobacco-related carcinogenesis of lung and UADT cancers, whereas putative high EPHX1 activity may have a harmful effect. Moreover, cigarette-smoking status may influence the association of EPHX1 enzyme activity and the related cancer risk.
PMCID: PMC3060809  PMID: 21445251

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