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Cancer Res. 2013 Apr 1;73(7):2322-32. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-2991. Epub 2013 Feb 4.

A CD90(+) tumor-initiating cell population with an aggressive signature and metastatic capacity in esophageal cancer.

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Department of Pathology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.


Tumor-initiating cells (TIC), also known as cancer stem cells, are regarded widely as a specific subpopulation of cells needed for cancer initiation and progression. TICs have yet to be identified in esophageal tumors that have an increasing incidence in developed countries. Here, we report a CD90(+) cell population found in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), which is endowed with stem cell-like properties and high tumorigenic and metastatic potential. mRNA profiling of these cells suggested pathways through which they drive tumor growth and metastasis, with deregulation of an Ets-1/MMP signaling pathway and epithelial-mesenchymal transition figuring prominently. These cells possessed higher self-renewal activity and were sufficient for tumor growth, differentiation, metastasis, and chemotherapeutic resistance. CD90(+) TICs were isolated and characterized from ESCC clinical specimens as well as ESCC cell lines. In freshly resected clinical specimens, they represented a rare cell population, the levels of which correlated with strong family histories and lymph node metastasis. Our results prompt further study of this CD90(+) population of esophageal TICs as potential therapeutic targets.

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