Functional heterogeneity within the CD44 high human breast cancer stem cell-like compartment reveals a gene signature predictive of distant metastasis

Rikke Leth-Larsen, Mikkel G Terp, Anne G Christensen, Daniel Elias, Thorsten Kühlwein, Ole N Jensen, Ole W Petersen, Henrik J Ditzel
Molecular Medicine 2012 September 25, 18: 1109-21
The CD44(hi) compartment in human breast cancer is enriched in tumor-initiating cells; however, the functional heterogeneity within this subpopulation remains poorly defined. We used a triple-negative breast cancer cell line with a known bilineage phenotype to isolate and clone CD44(hi) single cells that exhibited mesenchymal/basal B and luminal/basal A features, respectively. Herein, we demonstrate in this and other triple-negative breast cancer cell lines that, rather than CD44(hi)/CD24(-) mesenchymal-like basal B cells, the CD44(hi)/CD24(lo) epithelioid basal A cells retained classic cancer stem cell features, such as tumor-initiating capacity in vivo, mammosphere formation and resistance to standard chemotherapy. These results complement previous findings using oncogene-transformed normal mammary cells showing that only cell clones with a mesenchymal phenotype exhibit cancer stem cell features. Further, we performed comparative quantitative proteomic and gene array analyses of these cells and identified potential novel markers of breast cancer cells with tumor-initiating features, such as lipolysis-stimulated lipoprotein receptor (LSR), RAB25, S100A14 and mucin 1 (MUC1), as well as a novel 31-gene signature capable of predicting distant metastasis in cohorts of estrogen receptor-negative human breast cancers. These findings strongly favor functional heterogeneity in the breast cancer cell compartment and hold promise for further refinements of prognostic marker profiling. Our work confirms that, in addition to cancer stem cells with mesenchymal-like morphology, those tumor-initiating cells with epithelial-like morphology should also be the focus of drug development.

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