A growing number of studies has shed light on the role of the NF-κΒ in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). To address the significance of major effectors of the NF-κΒ alternative pathway, we investigated the relationship between NF-κΒ2, RelB, NIK and Bcl3 expression (mRNA and protein) and the clinical outcome of NSCLC patients. NF-κΒ2, RelB, NIK and Bcl3 protein expression levels were assessed by immunohistochemistry in tissue samples from 151 NSCLC patients who had curative resection. mRNA levels were also evaluated in 69 patients using quantitative real-time PCR. Although all studied proteins were overexpressed in NSCLC (P < 0.001 for all), only RelB mRNA levels were strongly increased in cancerous specimens compared to tumor-adjacent non-neoplastic tissues (P = 0.009). Moreover, NF-κB2, RelB and Bcl3 expression was associated with overall survival (OS). In particular, cytoplasmic and mRNA expression of RelB was related to 5-year OS (P = 0.014 and P = 0.006, respectively). Multivariate analysis also showed that Bcl3 expression (nuclear and cytoplasmic) was associated with increased 5-year OS (P = 0.002 and P = 0.036, respectively). In addition, higher Bcl3 mRNA levels were associated with inferior OS in stages I & II and improved OS in stages III and IV after 5-year follow-up (P = 0.004 and P = 0.001, respectively). Furthermore, stage I patients with lower NF-κB2 mRNA levels had better 5-year survival in univariate and multivariate analysis (P = 0.031 and P = 0.028, respectively). Interestingly, RelB expression (cytoplasmic and mRNA) was inversely associated with relapse rates (P = 0.027 and P = 0.015, respectively), while low NIK cytoplasmic expression was associated with lower relapse rates (P = 0.019). Cytoplasmic NIK expression as well as NF-κB2/ Bcl3 detection was associated with lymph node infiltration (P = 0.039 and P = 0.014, respectively). The present study confirms the deregulation of the NF-κB alternative pathway in NSCLC and also demonstrates the importance of this pathway in prognosis, recurrence and infiltration of regional lymph nodes.
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