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Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive tumour with an abysmal prognosis. These cancers are characteristically resistant to glucocorticoid (Gc) action, owing to impaired expression of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). We identified reduced GR expression in human SCLC cell lines, compared to a non-SCLC cell line. The SCLC cells also showed no Gc inhibition of proliferation, in contrast to non-SCLC cells. Retroviral overexpression of GR resulted in significantly increased cell death, which was partially blocked by the GR antagonist, RU486. Indeed, in cells sorted for GR expression, there was rapid, near complete loss of live cells by 72 h, in contrast to control cells that proliferated as expected. Flow cytometry using Annexin V revealed that cell death was by apoptosis. In addition, confocal analysis of fixed cells showed that cells overexpressing GR displayed a significant increase in fragmenting apoptotic nuclei. Microarray studies showed that transgenic GR expression upregulated the proapoptotic genes, BAD and BAX. We have, therefore, identified a profound apoptotic effect of GR in SCLC cells, which may explain the low levels of endogenous GR in SCLC cells. Understanding how GR overexpression leads to apoptotic cell death in SCLC cells may uncover new therapeutic strategies.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





7111 - 7121


Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal, Apoptosis, Carcinoma, Small Cell, Cell Line, Cell Line, Tumor, Cell Survival, Gene Targeting, Growth Inhibitors, Humans, Lung Neoplasms, Receptors, Glucocorticoid