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Genes Dev. 2010 Aug 15;24(16):1731-45. doi: 10.1101/gad.1890510.

Tumor heterogeneity is an active process maintained by a mutant EGFR-induced cytokine circuit in glioblastoma.

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University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


Human solid tumors frequently have pronounced heterogeneity of both neoplastic and normal cells on the histological, genetic, and gene expression levels. While current efforts are focused on understanding heterotypic interactions between tumor cells and surrounding normal cells, much less is known about the interactions between and among heterogeneous tumor cells within a neoplasm. In glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), epidermal growth factor receptor gene (EGFR) amplification and mutation (EGFRvIII/DeltaEGFR) are signature pathogenetic events that are invariably expressed in a heterogeneous manner. Strikingly, despite its greater biological activity than wild-type EGFR (wtEGFR), individual GBM tumors expressing both amplified receptors typically express wtEGFR in far greater abundance than the DeltaEGFR lesion. We hypothesized that the minor DeltaEGFR-expressing subpopulation enhances tumorigenicity of the entire tumor cell population, and thereby maintains heterogeneity of expression of the two receptor forms in different cells. Using mixtures of glioma cells as well as immortalized murine astrocytes, we demonstrate that a paracrine mechanism driven by DeltaEGFR is the primary means for recruiting wtEGFR-expressing cells into accelerated proliferation in vivo. We determined that human glioma tissues, glioma cell lines, glioma stem cells, and immortalized mouse Ink4a/Arf(-/-) astrocytes that express DeltaEGFR each also express IL-6 and/or leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) cytokines. These cytokines activate gp130, which in turn activates wtEGFR in neighboring cells, leading to enhanced rates of tumor growth. Ablating IL-6, LIF, or gp130 uncouples this cellular cross-talk, and potently attenuates tumor growth enhancement. These findings support the view that a minor tumor cell population can potently drive accelerated growth of the entire tumor mass, and thereby actively maintain tumor cell heterogeneity within a tumor mass. Such interactions between genetically dissimilar cancer cells could provide novel points of therapeutic intervention.

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