Airway epithelial cells are prone to the damage caused by lung cancer risk factors, such as cigarette smoking. Little is known about surrogate biomarkers in the bronchial airway epithelium that can be used to assess the effect of potential chemoprevention drugs on lung adenocarcinoma formation/ progression. Pioglitazone has been suggested as a chemoprevention drug for lung cancer. To study the mechanisms underlying the role of pioglitazone in lung cancer prevention, we performed transcriptome sequencing (RNA-Seq) and found that Kras signaling was repressed by pioglitazone treatment in the airway epithelial cells of mice with lung adenocarcinoma (FDR q = 9.8E-04). It was also found that glucose metabolic pathways were elevated in the airway epithelium of mice with lung adenocarcinomas and inhibited by pioglitazone treatment (FDR q = 0.01). Downregulation of glucose metabolism genes was also observed in lung tumors of mice treated with pioglitazone. The high-risk expression signature of elevated glucose metabolism was associated with poor survival outcome in multiple lung adenocarcinoma patient populations (P values ranging from 1.0E-9 to 5.5E-5). Our results suggest that the role of pioglitazone in preventing lung adenocarcinoma may depend on inhibiting Kras signaling and glucose metabolism, which may serve as biomarkers of agent action in the airway epithelium.
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