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Eur J Cancer. 2007 Mar;43(5):935-46. Epub 2007 Feb 22.

Melanoma contains CD133 and ABCG2 positive cells with enhanced tumourigenic potential.

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Department of Biomolecular Science and Biotechnology, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.


The failure to eradicate most cancers and in particular melanoma may be as fundamental as a misidentification of the target. The identification of cancer stem/initiating cells within the tumour population with a crucial role for tumour formation may open new pharmacological perspectives. Our data show three main novelties for human melanoma: firstly, melanoma biopsy contains a subset of cells expressing CD133 (CD133+) and the latter is able to develop a Mart-1 positive tumour in NOD-SCID mice. Secondly, the WM115, a human melanoma cell line, has been found to express both CD133 and ABCG2 markers. This cell line grows as floating spheroids, expresses typical progenitors and mature neuronal/oligodendrocyte markers and is able to transdifferentiate into astrocytes or mesenchymal lineages under specific growth conditions. As in xenografts generated with CD133+ biopsy melanoma cells, those produced by the cell line displayed lower levels of CD133 and ABCG2. Thirdly, the WM115 cells express the most important angiogenic and lymphoangiogenic factors such as notch 4, prox1 and podoplanin which can cooperate in the development of the tumourigenic capability of melanoma in vivo. Therefore, in this study, we demonstrate the presence of stem/initiating subsets in melanoma both in biopsy and in an established melanoma cell line grown in vitro and in xenografts. Interestingly, considering that melanoma gives metastasis primarily through lymphatic vessels, herein, we demonstrated that a melanoma cell line expresses typical lymphoangiogenic factors.

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