Adopting a systems approach, we devise a general workflow to define actionable subtypes in human cancers. Applied to small cell lung cancer (SCLC), the workflow identifies four subtypes based on global gene expression patterns and ontologies. Three correspond to known subtypes (SCLC-A, SCLC-N, and SCLC-Y), while the fourth is a previously undescribed ASCL1+ neuroendocrine variant (NEv2, or SCLC-A2). Tumor deconvolution with subtype gene signatures shows that all of the subtypes are detectable in varying proportions in human and mouse tumors. To understand how multiple stable subtypes can arise within a tumor, we infer a network of transcription factors and develop BooleaBayes, a minimally-constrained Boolean rule-fitting approach. In silico perturbations of the network identify master regulators and destabilizers of its attractors. Specific to NEv2, BooleaBayes predicts ELF3 and NR0B1 as master regulators of the subtype, and TCF3 as a master destabilizer. Since the four subtypes exhibit differential drug sensitivity, with NEv2 consistently least sensitive, these findings may lead to actionable therapeutic strategies that consider SCLC intratumoral heterogeneity. Our systems-level approach should generalize to other cancer types.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Computational Theory and Mathematics