Synaptophysin is a Mr 38,000 integral membrane glycoprotein expressed by a variety of normal and neoplastic neuroendocrine cells. We studied synaptophysin as an immunocytochemical marker for neuroendocrine differentiation in lung cancer and compared it to the immunocytochemical expression of chromogranin A, a marker for dense core (endocrine) granules, and the biochemical activity of l-dopa decarboxylase (DDC), the key amine-handling enzyme. Of the 250 cell lines available to us, we selected examples representative of the following cell types: bronchial carcinoids (n = 4), small cell lung cancer (SCLC) (n = 7), extrapulmonary small cell carcinomas (n = 4), and non-small cell lung cancers (n = 18) whose neuroendocrine status had been previously determined on the basis of electron microscopy and DDC activity. We demonstrated (a) there was a higher incidence of synaptophysin than chromogranin A immunoreactivity in carcinoid (100 versus 75%), classic SCLC (70 versus 50%), and variant SCLC (57 versus 29%) cell lines; (b) 3 of the 4 (75%) extrapulmonary small cell lung cancer cell lines expressed synaptophysin and chromogranin A; (c) 5 of the 7 (71%) nonsmall cell lung cancer cell lines previously shown to express multiple neuroendocrine markers were positive for synaptophysin, chromogranin A, and DDC activity; (d) none of the other 11 non-small cell lung cancer cell lines expressed synaptophysin or chromogranin A; and (e) formalin fixation and paraffin embedding reduced synaptophysin immunoreactivity in 11 of 14 (79%) of the cell lines, as compared to freshly prepared specimens fixed in 95% ethanol. Western blot analysis using the synaptophysin antibody (SY38) demonstrated immunoreactive proteins ranging from Mr 43,000 to 45,000 in five representative cell lines. The concordance of expression of all three neuroendocrine markers was statistically significant when values for all cell lines were totalled. Synaptophysin was a more commonly expressed marker for variant SCLC cell lines, which rarely showed DDC activity. We conclude that synaptophysin may be a more sensitive and specific marker for neuroendocrine differentiation, when compared to chromogranin A and DDC in lung cancer cell lines which express only part of the neuroendocrine program.


The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the Department of Defense.

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