The appropriate selection of patients is a major challenge in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs). Prospective trials in adenocarcinoma demonstrated that the mucinous subtype presents a poorer outcome under EGFR-TKI treatment than the non-mucinous subtype. Our aim was to determine the molecular characteristics associated with resistance to EGFR-TKIs in mucinous and non-mucinous adenocarcinoma. Eighty adenocarcinoma samples, including 34 tumours from patients treated with gefitinib in a phase II clinical trial (IFCT0401), were classified as mucinous (n = 32) or non-mucinous (n = 48) adenocarcinoma. We demonstrated that four biological markers were differentially expressed between the two subtypes: mucinous tumours that overexpressed IGF1R (p < 0.0001) and amphiregulin (p = 0.004) with a tendency for more frequent KRAS mutations, in contrast to non-mucinous tumours that overexpressed EGFR (p < 0.0001) and TTF-1 (p < 0.0001) with more frequent EGFR mutations (p = 0.037). Higher IGF1R (p = 0.02) and lower TTF-1 (p = 0.02) expression was associated with disease progression under gefitinib treatment. We observed in vitro cross-talk between EGFR and IGF1R signalling pathways in gefitinib-resistant H358 mucinous cells. Anti-amphiregulin siRNAs and anti-IGF1R treatments sensitized the H358 cells to gefitinib-induced apoptosis with additive effects, suggesting that these treatments could overcome the resistance of mucinous tumours to EGFR-TKIs, including those with KRAS mutation. Our results highlighted that mucinous and non-mucinous adenocarcinoma subtypes are different entities with different therapeutic responses to EGFR-TKIs. These data will foster the development of therapeutic strategies for treating adenocarcinoma with mucinous component. Copyright © 2011 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.