Transcriptomic data helps refining classification of pulmonary carcinoid tumors with increased mitotic counts
Pulmonary neuroendocrine neoplasms are classified by WHO as either typical or atypical carcinoids, large cell (LCNEC) or small cell (SCLC) neuroendocrine carcinoma based on mitotic count, morphology, and necrosis assessment. LCNEC with low mitotic count and sharing morphologic features with carcinoids are in a gray zone for classification and their rare prevalence and the paucity of studies precludes proper validation of the current grading system. In this study, we aim to investigate their clinicopathological and transcriptomic profiles. Lung resection specimens obtained from 18 patients diagnosed with carcinoids or LCNEC were selected. Four of them were characterized as borderline tumors based on a mitotic rate ranging between 10 and 30 mitoses per 2 mm(2). Comprehensive morphological and immunohistochemical (IHC) evaluation was performed and tumor-based transcriptomic profiles were analyzed through unsupervised clustering. Clustering analysis revealed two distinct molecular groups characterized by low (C1) and high (C2) proliferation. C1 was comprised of seven carcinoids and three borderline tumors, while C2 was comprised of seven LCNEC and one borderline tumor. Furthermore, patients in cluster C1 had a better recurrence-free survival compared with patients in cluster C2 (20% vs 75%). Histological features, IHC profile, and molecular analysis showed that three out of four borderline tumors showed features consistent with carcinoids. Therefore, our findings convey that the current diagnostic guidelines are suboptimal for classification of pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors with increased proliferative index and carcinoid-like morphology. These results support the emerging concept that neuroendocrine tumors with carcinoid-like features and mitotic count of <20 mitoses per 2 mm(2) should be regarded as pulmonary carcinoids instead of LCNEC.