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Molecular Biology - Oncology - Otolaryngology - Physiology - Radiology and Medical Imaging

A CD44high/EGFRlow Subpopulation within Head and Neck Cancer Cell Lines Shows an Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Phenotype and Resistance to Treatment
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Author: Linnea La Fleur et al.

by Linnea La Fleur, Ann-Charlotte Johansson, Karin Roberg

Mortality in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is high due to emergence of therapy resistance which results in local and regional recurrences that may have their origin in resistant cancer stem cells (CSCs) or cells with an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype. In the present study, we investigate the possibility of using the cell surface expression of CD44 and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), both of which have been used as stem cell markers, to identify subpopulations within HNSCC cell lines that differ with respect to phenotype and treatment sensitivity. Three subpopulations, consisting of CD44high/EGFRlow, CD44high/EGFRhigh and CD44low cells, respectively, were collected by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. The CD44high/EGFRlow population showed a spindle-shaped EMT-like morphology, while the CD44low population was dominated by cobblestone-shaped cells. The CD44high/EGFRlow population was enriched with cells in G0/G1 and showed a relatively low proliferation rate and a high plating efficiency. Using a real time PCR array, 27 genes, of which 14 were related to an EMT phenotype and two with stemness, were found to be differentially expressed in CD44high/EGFRlow cells in comparison to CD44low cells. Moreover, CD44high/EGFRlow cells showed a low sensitivity to radiation, cisplatin, cetuximab and gefitinib, and a high sensitivity to dasatinib relative to its CD44high/EGFRhigh and CD44low counterparts. In conclusion, our results show that the combination of CD44 (high) and EGFR (low) cell surface expression can be used to identify a treatment resistant subpopulation with an EMT phenotype in HNSCC cell lines.