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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 22;106(38):16281-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0905653106. Epub 2009 Sep 10.

Highly tumorigenic lung cancer CD133+ cells display stem-like features and are spared by cisplatin treatment.

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  • 1Molecular Cytogenetics Unit, Department of Experimental Oncology, Fondazione Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico, Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, 20133 Milan, Italy.


The identification of lung tumor-initiating cells and associated markers may be useful for optimization of therapeutic approaches and for predictive and prognostic information in lung cancer patients. CD133, a surface glycoprotein linked to organ-specific stem cells, was described as a marker of cancer-initiating cells in different tumor types. Here, we report that a CD133+, epithelial-specific antigen-positive (CD133+ESA+) population is increased in primary nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) compared with normal lung tissue and has higher tumorigenic potential in SCID mice and expression of genes involved in stemness, adhesion, motility, and drug efflux than the CD133(-) counterpart. Cisplatin treatment of lung cancer cells in vitro resulted in enrichment of CD133+ fraction both after acute cytotoxic exposure and in cells with stable cisplatin-resistant phenotype. Subpopulations of CD133+ABCG2+ and CD133+CXCR4+ cells were spared by in vivo cisplatin treatment of lung tumor xenografts established from primary tumors. A tendency toward shorter progression-free survival was observed in CD133+ NSCLC patients treated with platinum-containing regimens. Our results indicate that chemoresistant populations with highly tumorigenic and stem-like features are present in lung tumors. The molecular features of these cells may provide the rationale for more specific therapeutic targeting and the definition of predictive factors in clinical management of this lethal disease.

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