Cancer Hallmarks Define a Continuum of Plastic Cell States between Small Cell Lung Cancer Archetypes
Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) tumors are heterogeneous mixtures of transcriptional subtypes. Understanding subtype dynamics could be key to explaining the aggressive properties that make SCLC a recalcitrant cancer. Applying archetype analysis and evolutionary theory to bulk and single-cell transcriptomics, we show that SCLC cells reside within a cell-state continuum rather than in discrete subtype clusters. Gene expression signatures and ontologies indicate each vertex of the continuum corresponds to a functional phenotype optimized for a cancer hallmark task: three neuroendocrine archetypes specialize in proliferation/survival, inflammation and immune evasion, and two non-neuroendocrine archetypes in angiogenesis and metabolic dysregulation.