Sphere culture of murine lung cancer cell lines are enriched with cancer initiating cells

Brian J Morrison, Jason C Steel, John C Morris
PloS One 2012, 7 (11): e49752
Cancer initiating cells (CICs) represent a unique cell population essential for the maintenance and growth of tumors. Most in vivo studies of CICs utilize human tumor xenografts in immunodeficient mice. These models provide limited information on the interaction of CICs with the host immune system and are of limited value in assessing therapies targeting CICs, especially immune-based therapies. To assess this, a syngeneic cancer model is needed. We examined the sphere-forming capacity of thirteen murine lung cancer cell lines and identified TC-1 and a metastatic subclone of Lewis lung carcinoma (HM-LLC) as cell lines that readily formed and maintained spheres over multiple passages. TC-1 tumorspheres were not enriched for expression of CD133 or CD44, putative CIC markers, nor did they demonstrate Hoechst 33342 side population staining or Aldefluor activity compared to adherent TC-1 cells. However, in tumorsphere culture, these cells exhibited self-renewal and long-term symmetric division capacity and expressed more Oct-4 compared to adherent cells. HM-LLC sphere-derived cells exhibited increased Oct-4, CD133, and CD44 expression, demonstrated a Hoechst 33342 side population and Aldefluor activity compared to adherent cells or a low metastatic subclone of LLC (LM-LLC). In syngeneic mice, HM-LLC sphere-derived cells required fewer cells to initiate tumorigenesis compared to adherent or LM-LLC cells. Similarly TC-1 sphere-derived cells were more tumorigenic than adherent cells in syngeneic mice. In contrast, in immunocompromised mice, less than 500 sphere or adherent TC-1 cells and less than 1,000 sphere or adherent LLC cells were required to initiate a tumor. We suggest that no single phenotypic marker can identify CICs in murine lung cancer cell lines. Tumorsphere culture may provide an alternative approach to identify and enrich for murine lung CICs. Furthermore, we propose that assessing tumorigenicity of murine lung CICs in syngeneic mice better models the interaction of CICs with the host immune system.

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