Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Department of Life Science, Sogang University, Seoul 04107, Korea.
Tumor-initiating cells or cancer stem cells are a subset of cancer cells that have tumorigenic potential in human cancer. Although several markers have been proposed to distinguish tumor-initiating cells from colorectal cancer cells, little is known about how this subpopulation contributes to tumorigenesis. Here, we characterized a tumor-initiating cell subpopulation from Caco-2 colorectal cancer cells. Based on the findings that Caco-2 cell subpopulations express different cell surface markers, we were able to discriminate three main fractions, CD44-CD133-, CD44-CD133+, and CD44+CD133+ subsets, and characterized their biochemical and tumorigenic properties. Our results show that CD44+CD133+ cells possessed an unusual capacity to proliferate and could form tumors when transplanted into NSG mice. Additionally, primary tumors grown from CD44+CD133+ Caco-2 cells contained mixed populations of CD44+CD133+ and non-CD44+CD133+ Caco-2 cells, indicating that the full phenotypic heterogeneity of the parental Caco-2 cells was re-created. Notably, only the CD44+CD133+ subset of Caco-2-derived primary tumors had tumorigenic potential in NSG mice, and the tumor growth of CD44+CD133+ cells was faster in secondary xenografts than in primary transplants. Gene expression analysis revealed that the Wnt/β-catenin pathway was over-activated in CD44+CD133+ cells, and the growth and tumorigenic potential of this subpopulation were significantly suppressed by small-molecule Wnt/β-catenin signaling inhibitors. Our findings suggest that the CD44+CD133+ subpopulation from Caco-2 cells was highly enriched in tumorigenic cells and will be useful for investigating the mechanisms leading to human colorectal cancer development.
Keywords: Caco-2, Tumor-initiating cells, CD44, CD133, Tumorigenic potential, Wnt/β-catenin signaling inhibitor, XAV939, IWR-1