Identification of cancer stem cells in human gastrointestinal carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors

Puja Gaur, Eric L Sceusi, Shaija Samuel, Ling Xia, Fan Fan, Yunfei Zhou, Jia Lu, Federico Tozzi, Gabriel Lopez-Berestein, Pablo Vivas-Mejia, Asif Rashid, Jason B Fleming, Eddie K Abdalla, Steven A Curley, Jean-Nicolas Vauthey, Anil K Sood, James C Yao, Lee M Ellis
Gastroenterology 2011, 141 (5): 1728-37

BACKGROUND & AIMS: Metastatic gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) frequently are refractory to chemotherapy. Chemoresistance in various malignancies has been attributed to cancer stem cells (CSCs). We sought to identify gastrointestinal neuroendocrine CSCs (N-CSCs) in surgical specimens and a NET cell line and to characterize novel N-CSC therapeutic targets.

METHODS: Human gastrointestinal NETs were evaluated for CSCs using the Aldefluor (Stemcell Technologies, Vancouver, Canada) assay. An in vitro, sphere-forming assay was performed on primary NET cells. CNDT2.5, a human midgut carcinoid cell line, was used for in vitro (sphere-formation) and in vivo (tumorigenicity assays) CSC studies. N-CSC protein expression was characterized using Western blotting. In vivo, systemic short interfering RNA administration targeted Src.

RESULTS: By using the Aldefluor assay, aldehyde dehydrogenase-positive (ALDH+) cells comprised 5.8% ± 1.4% (mean ± standard error of the mean) of cells from 19 patient samples. Although many primary cell lines failed to grow, CNDT96 ALDH+ cells formed spheres in anchorage-independent conditions, whereas ALDH- cells did not. CNDT2.5 ALDH+ cells formed spheres, whereas ALDH- cells did not. In vivo, ALDH+ CNDT2.5 cells generated more tumors, with shorter latency than ALDH- or sham-sorted cells. Compared with non-CSCs, ALDH+ cells demonstrated increased expression of activated Src, Erk, Akt, and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). In vivo, anti-Src short interfering RNA treatment of ALDH+ tumors reduced tumor mass by 91%.

CONCLUSIONS: CSCs are present in NETs, as shown by in vitro sphere formation and in vivo tumorigenicity assays. Src was activated in N-CSCs and represents a potential therapeutic target in gastrointestinal NETs.

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