JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quantifying the frequency of tumor-propagating cells using limiting dilution cell transplantation in syngeneic zebrafish

Jessica S Blackburn, Sali Liu, David M Langenau
Journal of Visualized Experiments: JoVE 2011, (53): e2790
21775966
Self-renewing cancer cells are the only cell types within a tumor that have an unlimited ability to promote tumor growth, and are thus known as tumor-propagating cells, or tumor-initiating cells. It is thought that targeting these self-renewing cells for destruction will block tumor progression and stop relapse, greatly improving patient prognosis. The most common way to determine the frequency of self-renewing cells within a tumor is a limiting dilution cell transplantation assay, in which tumor cells are transplanted into recipient animals at increasing doses; the proportion of animals that develop tumors is used the calculate the number of self-renewing cells within the original tumor sample. Ideally, a large number of animals would be used in each limiting dilution experiment to accurately determine the frequency of tumor-propagating cells. However, large scale experiments involving mice are costly, and most limiting dilution assays use only 10-15 mice per experiment. Zebrafish have gained prominence as a cancer model, in large part due to their ease of genetic manipulation and the economy by which large scale experiments can be performed. Additionally, the cancer types modeled in zebrafish have been found to closely mimic their counterpart human disease. While it is possible to transplant tumor cells from one fish to another by sub-lethal irradiation of recipient animals, the regeneration of the immune system after 21 days often causes tumor regression. The recent creation of syngeneic zebrafish has greatly facilitated tumor transplantation studies. Because these animals are genetically identical, transplanted tumor cells engraft robustly into recipient fish, and tumor growth can be monitored over long periods of time. Syngeneic zebrafish are ideal for limiting dilution transplantation assays in that tumor cells do not have to adapt to growth in a foreign microenvironment, which may underestimate self-renewing cell frequency. Additionally, one-cell transplants have been successfully completed using syngeneic zebrafish and several hundred animals can be easily and economically transplanted at one time, both of which serve to provide a more accurate estimate of self-renewing cell frequency. Here, a method is presented for creating primary, fluorescently-labeled T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) in syngeneic zebrafish, and transplanting these tumors at limiting dilution into adult fish to determine self-renewing cell frequency. While leukemia is provided as an example, this protocol is suitable to determine the frequency of tumor-propagating cells using any cancer model in the zebrafish.

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