OBJECTIVES: Cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been implicated in disease progression of aggressive cancers including small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC). Here, we have examined the possible contribution of CSCs to SCLC progression and aggressiveness.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: GLC-14, GLC-16 and GLC-19 SCLC cell lines derived from one patient, representing increasing progressive stages of disease were used. CSC marker expressions was determined by RT-qPCR and western blotting analyses, and heterogeneity was studied by CSC marker expression by immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Colony formation assays were used to assess stem cell properties and therapy sensitivity.
RESULTS: Increasing expression of stem cell markers MYC, SOX2 and particularly CD44 were found in association with advancing disease. Single and overlapping expression of these markers indicated the presence of different CSC populations. The accumulation of more homogeneous double- and triple-positive CSC populations evolved with disease progression. Functional characterization of CSC properties affirmed higher proficiency of colony forming ability and increased resistance to γ-irradiation in GLC-16 and GLC-19 compared to GLC-14. GLC-19 colony formation was significantly inhibited by a human anti-CD44 antibody.
CONCLUSION: The progressive increase of MYC, SOX2 and particularly CD44 expression that was accompanied with enhanced colony forming capacity and resistance in the in vitro GLC disease progression model, supports the potential clinical relevance of CSC populations in malignancy and disease relapse of SCLC.