p185neu is the protein product of the HER2/neu protooncogene. This protein has characteristics of a tyrosine kinase growth factor receptor and is postulated to be important in human carcinogenesis. To define the significance of the expression of this protein in human non-small cell lung cancer, 55 tumors from patients with squamous cell carcinoma (16), adenocarcinoma (29), or large cell carcinoma (10) of the lung were examined for p185neu using immunohistological methods. Five of 16 squamous cell carcinomas and 10 of 29 adenocarcinomas were found to overexpress p185neu relative to levels of expression seen in uninvolved bronchiolar epithelium. For the adenocarcinomas, p185neu expression was associated with older age (66.6 ± 10.1 versus 57.5 ± 10.8 years) (P = 0.04) and shortened survival (83.7 ± 94.1 versus 188.5 ± 120 weeks) (P = 0.01). In this group, using Cox's multivariate survival analysis, p185neu expression was found to be a significant determinant of survival (P = 0.04) even after accounting for the effect of tumor stage. For the squamous cell carcinomas, p185neu expression was not correlated with any of our clinicopathological parameters. Our findings indicate that non-small cell lung cancers which express p185neu do so at levels higher than that found in normal bronchiolar epithelium, and expression in adenocarcinomas of the lung is independently associated with diminished survival intervals.

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This work was supported by grants from NIH HL01575, the American Lung Association, and in part by the University of Iowa Cancer Center. Dr. Weiner is supported by the Council for Tobacco Research.

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