Small cell lung cancer growing in cell culture possesses biologic properties that allow classification into two categories: classic and variant. Compared with classic small cell lung cancer cell lines, variant lines have altered large cell morphology, shorter doubling times, higher cloning efficiencies in soft agarose, and very low levels of L dopa decarboxylase production and bombesin-like immunoreactivity. C-myc is amplified and expressed in some small cell lung cancer cell lines and all c-myc amplified lines studied to date display the variant phenotype. To investigate if c-myc amplification and expression is responsible for the variant phenotype, a normal human c-myc gene was transfected into a cloned classic small cell lung cancer cell line not amplified for or expressing detectable c-myc messenger RNA (mRNA). Clones were isolated with one to six copies of c-myc stably integrated into DNA that expressed c-myc mRNA. In addition, one clone with an integrated neo gene but a deleted c-myc gene was isolated and in this case c-myc was not expressed. C-myc expression in transfected clones was associated with altered large cell morphology, a shorter doubling time, and increased cloning efficiency, but no difference in L dopa decarboxylase levels and bombesin-like immunoreactivity. We conclude increased c-myc expression observed here in transfected clones correlates with some of the phenotypic properties distinguishing c-myc amplified variants from unamplified classic small cell lung cancer lines.
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