CD44 staining of cancer stem-like cells is influenced by down-regulation of CD44 variant isoforms and up-regulation of the standard CD44 isoform in the population of cells that have undergone epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition.
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CD44 is commonly used as a cell surface marker of cancer stem-like cells in epithelial tumours, and we have previously demonstrated the existence of two different CD44(high) cancer stem-like cell populations in squamous cell carcinoma, one having undergone epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and the other maintaining an epithelial phenotype. Alternative splicing of CD44 variant exons generates a great many isoforms, and it is not known which isoforms are expressed on the surface of the two different cancer stem-like cell phenotypes. Here, we demonstrate that cancer stem-like cells with an epithelial phenotype predominantly express isoforms containing the variant exons, whereas the cancer stem-like cells that have undergone an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition down-regulate these variant isoforms and up-regulate expression of the standard CD44 isoform that contains no variant exons. In addition, we find that enzymatic treatments used to dissociate cells from tissue culture or fresh tumour specimens cause destruction of variant CD44 isoforms at the cell surface whereas expression of the standard CD44 isoform is preserved. This results in enrichment within the CD44(high) population of cancer stem-like cells that have undergone an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and depletion from the CD44(high) population of cancer stem-like cells that maintain an epithelial phenotype, and therefore greatly effects the characteristics of any cancer stem-like cell population isolated based on expression of CD44. As well as effecting the CD44(high) population, enzymatic treatment also reduces the percentage of the total epithelial cancer cell population staining CD44-positive, with potential implications for studies that aim to use CD44-positive staining as a prognostic indicator. Analyses of the properties of cancer stem-like cells are largely dependent on the ability to accurately identify and assay these populations. It is therefore critical that consideration be given to use of multiple cancer stem-like cell markers and suitable procedures for cell isolation in order that the correct populations are assayed.
AuthorsBiddle, A; Gammon, L; Fazil, B; Mackenzie, IC
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