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Lrig1 expression identifies airway basal cells with high proliferative capacity and restricts lung squamous cell carcinoma growth.

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journal contribution
posted on 31.03.2022, 08:51 by Laura Succony, Sandra Gómez-López, Adam Pennycuick, Ahmed SN Alhendi, Derek Davies, Sarah E Clarke, Kate HC Gowers, Nicholas A Wright, Kim B Jensen, Sam M Janes
Lung squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC) accounts for a significant proportion of cancer deaths worldwide, and is preceded by the appearance of progressively disorganised pre-invasive lesions in the airway epithelium. Yet the biological mechanisms underlying progression of pre-invasive lesions into invasive LUSC are not fully understood. LRIG1 is downregulated in pre-invasive airway lesions and invasive LUSC tumours and this correlates with decreased lung cancer patient survival.Using an Lrig1 knock-in reporter mouse and human airway epithelial cells collected at bronchoscopy, we show that during homeostasis LRIG1 is heterogeneously expressed in the airway epithelium. In basal airway epithelial cells, the suspected cell of origin of LUSC, LRIG1 identifies a subpopulation of progenitor cells with higher in vitro proliferative and self-renewal potential in both the mouse and human. Using the N-nitroso-tris-chloroethylurea (NTCU)-induced murine model of LUSC, we find that Lrig1 loss-of-function leads to abnormally high cell proliferation during the earliest stages of pre-invasive disease and to the formation of significantly larger invasive tumours, suggesting accelerated disease progression.Together, our findings identify LRIG1 as a marker of basal airway progenitor cells with high proliferative potential and as a regulator of pre-invasive lung cancer progression. This work highlights the clinical relevance of LRIG1 and the potential of the NTCU-induced LUSC model for functional assessment of candidate tumour suppressors and oncogenes.