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Potential prognostic marker ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal hydrolase-L1 does not predict patient survival in non-small cell lung carcinoma

Katy S Orr, Zhanzhong Shi, W Mark Brown, Kathleen A O'Hagan, Terence R Lappin, Perry Maxwell and Melanie J Percy*

Author Affiliations

Department of Haematology, Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Queen's University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, BT9 7BL

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Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research 2011, 30:79  doi:10.1186/1756-9966-30-79

Published: 30 August 2011



Ubiquitin Carboxyl-Terminal Hydrolase-L1 (UCH-L1) is a deubiquitinating enzyme that is highly expressed throughout the central and peripheral nervous system and in cells of the diffuse neuroendocrine system. Aberrant function of UCH-L1 has been associated with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, UCH-L1 exhibits a variable expression pattern in cancer, acting either as a tumour suppressor or promoter, depending on the type of cancer. In non-small cell lung carcinoma primary tumour samples, UCH-L1 is highly expressed and is associated with an advanced tumour stage. This suggests UCH-L1 may be involved in oncogenic transformation and tumour invasion in NSCLC. However, the functional significance of UCH-L1 in the progression of NSCLC is unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of UCH-L1 using NSCLC cell line models and to determine if it is clinically relevant as a prognostic marker for advanced stage disease.


UCH-L1 expression in NSCLC cell lines H838 and H157 was modulated by siRNA-knockdown, and the phenotypic changes were assessed by flow cytometry, haematoxylin & eosin (H&E) staining and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) cleavage. Metastatic potential was measured by the presence of phosphorylated myosin light chain (MLC2). Tumour microarrays were examined immunohistochemically for UCH-L1 expression. Kaplan-Meier curves were generated using UCH-L1 expression levels and patient survival data extracted from Gene Expression Omnibus data files.


Expression of UCH-L1 was decreased by siRNA in both cell lines, resulting in increased cell death in H838 adenocarcinoma cells but not in the H157 squamous cell line. However, metastatic potential was reduced in H157 cells. Immunohistochemical staining of UCH-L1 in patient tumours confirmed it was preferentially expressed in squamous cell carcinoma rather than adenocarcinoma. However the Kaplan-Meier curves generated showed no correlation between UCH-L1 expression levels and patient outcome.


Although UCH-L1 appears to be involved in carcinogenic processes in NSCLC cell lines, the absence of correlation with patient survival indicates that caution is required in the use of UCH-L1 as a potential prognostic marker for advanced stage and metastasis in lung carcinoma.