Microarray-based expression profiling studies of lung adenocarcinomas have defined neuroendocrine subclasses with poor prognosis. As neuroendocrine development is regulated by members of the achaete-scute and atonal classes of basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors, we analyzed lung tumors for expression of these factors. Out of 13 BHLH genes tested, 4 genes, i.e., achaete-scute complex-like 1 (ASCL1, HASH1, Mash1), atonal homolog 1 (ATOH1, HATH1, MATH1), NEUROD4 (ATH-3, Atoh3, MATH-3) and neurogenic differentiation factor 1 (NEUROD1, NEUROD, BETA2), showed differential expression among lung tumors and absent or low expression in normal lung. As expected, tumors that have high levels of ASCL1 also express neuroendocrine markers, and we found that this is accompanied by increased levels of NEUROD1. In addition, we found ATOH1 expression in 9 (16%) out of 56 analyzed adenocarcinomas and these tumors showed neuroendocrine features as shown by dopa decarboxylase mRNA expression and immunostaining for neuroendocrine markers. ATOH1 expression as well as NEUROD4 was observed in small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC), a known neuroendocrine tumor. Since ATOH1 is not known to be involved in normal lung development, our results suggest that aberrant activation of ATOH1 leads to a neuroendocrine phenotype similar to what is observed for ASCL1 activation during normal neuroendocrine development and in lung malignancies. Our preliminary data indicate that patients with ATOH1-expressing adenocarcinomas might have a worse prognosis.