RB1 mutations and loss of retinoblastoma (Rb) expression represent consistent but not entirely invariable hallmarks of small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The prevalence and characteristics of SCLC retaining wild-type Rb are not well-established. Furthermore, the performance of targeted next-generation sequencing (NGS) versus immunohistochemistry for Rb assessment is not well-defined.
A total of 208 clinical SCLC samples were analyzed by comprehensive targeted NGS, covering all exons of RB1, and Rb IHC. On the basis of established coordination of Rb/p16/cyclinD1 expression, p16-high/cyclinD1-low profile was used as a marker of constitutive Rb deficiency.
Fourteen of 208 (6%) SCLC expressed wild-type Rb, accompanied by a unique p16-low/cyclinD1-high profile supporting Rb proficiency. Rb-proficient SCLC was associated with neuroendocrine-low phenotype, combined SCLC with non-SCLC (NSCLC) histology and aggressive behavior. These tumors exclusively harbored CCND1 amplification (29%), and were markedly enriched in CDKN2A mutations (50%) and NSCLC-type alterations (KEAP1, STK11, FGFR1). The remaining 194 of 208 SCLC were Rb-deficient (p16-high/cyclinD1-low), including 184 cases with Rb loss (of which 29% lacked detectable RB1 alterations by clinical NGS pipeline), and 10 cases with mutated but expressed Rb.
This is the largest study to date to concurrently analyze Rb by NGS and IHC in SCLC, identifying a 6% rate of Rb proficiency. Pathologic-genomic data implicate NSCLC-related progenitors as a putative source of Rb-proficient SCLC. Consistent upstream Rb inactivation via CDKN2A/p16↓ and CCND1/cyclinD1↑ suggests the potential utility of CDK4/6 inhibitors in this aggressive SCLC subset. The study also clarifies technical aspects of Rb status determination in clinical practice, highlighting the limitations of exon-only sequencing for RB1 interrogation.