PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Public Health and Epidemiology - Respiratory Medicine

NOTCH1, HIF1A and Other Cancer-Related Proteins in Lung Tissue from Uranium Miners—Variation by Occupational Exposure and Subtype of Lung Cancer
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Author: Beate Pesch et al.

by Beate Pesch, Swaantje Casjens, Ingo Stricker, Daniela Westerwick, Dirk Taeger, Sylvia Rabstein, Thorsten Wiethege, Andrea Tannapfel, Thomas Brüning, Georg Johnen


Radon and arsenic are established pulmonary carcinogens. We investigated the association of cumulative exposure to these carcinogens with NOTCH1, HIF1A and other cancer-specific proteins in lung tissue from uranium miners.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Paraffin-embedded tissue of 147 miners was randomly selected from an autopsy repository by type of lung tissue, comprising adenocarcinoma (AdCa), squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC), small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and cancer-free tissue. Within each stratum, we additionally stratified by low or high level of exposure to radon or arsenic. Lifetime exposure to radon and arsenic was estimated using a quantitative job-exposure matrix developed for uranium mining. For 22 cancer-related proteins, immunohistochemical scores were calculated from the intensity and percentage of stained cells. We explored the associations of these scores with cumulative exposure to radon and arsenic with Spearman rank correlation coefficients (rs). Occupational exposure was associated with an up-regulation of NOTCH1 (radon rs?=?0.18, 95% CI 0.02–0.33; arsenic: rs?=?0.23, 95% CI 0.07–0.38). Moreover, we investigated whether these cancer-related proteins can classify lung cancer using supervised and unsupervised classification. MUC1 classified lung cancer from cancer-free tissue with a failure rate of 2.1%. A two-protein signature discriminated SCLC (HIF1A low), AdCa (NKX2-1 high), and SqCC (NKX2-1 low) with a failure rate of 8.4%.


These results suggest that the radiation-sensitive protein NOTCH1 can be up-regulated in lung tissue from uranium miners by level of exposure to pulmonary carcinogens. We evaluated a three-protein signature consisting of a physiological protein (MUC1), a cancer-specific protein (HIF1A), and a lineage-specific protein (NKX2-1) that could discriminate lung cancer and its major subtypes with a low failure rate.