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Br J Cancer. 2011 Oct 25;105(9):1338-41. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.405. Epub 2011 Oct 4.

Detection of circulating tumour cells with a hybrid (epithelial/mesenchymal) phenotype in patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

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University of Paris-Sud, INSERM U981 'Identification of molecular predictors and new targets for cancer treatment', Institut de Cancérologie Gustave Roussy, 114 rue Edouard Vaillant, 94805 Villejuif, France.



Circulating tumour cells (CTC) have a crucial role in metastasis formation and can consistently provide information on patient prognosis. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is considered as an essential process in the metastatic cascade, but there is currently very few data demonstrating directly the existence of the EMT process in CTCs.


CTCs were enriched by blood filtration using ISET (isolation by size of epithelial tumour cells), triply labelled with fluorescent anti-vimentin, anti-pan-keratin antibodies and SYTOX orange nuclear dye, and examined by confocal microscopy in six patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In parallel, CTCs were morphocytologically identified by an experienced cytopathologist.


Isolated or clusters of dual CTCs strongly co-expressing vimentin and keratin were evidenced in all patients (range 5-88/5 ml). CTCs expressing only vimentin were detected in three patients, but were less frequent (range 3-15/5 ml). No CTC expressing only keratin was detected.


We showed for the first time the existence of hybrid CTCs with an epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype in patients with NSCLC. Their characterisation should provide further insight on the significance of EMT in CTCs and on the mechanism of metastasis in patients with NSCLC.

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