Tumor-initiating cells are uniquely resilient to current treatment modalities and play an important role in tumor resistance and recurrence. The lack of specific tumor-initiating cell markers to identify and target these cells presents a major obstacle to effective directed therapy.
To identify tumor-initiating cell markers in primary brain tumors, the authors compared the proteomes of glioma tumor-initiating cells to their differentiated progeny using a novel, nongel/shotgun-based, multidimensional liquid-chromatography protein separation technique. An in vivo xenograft model was used to demonstrate the tumorigenic and stem cell properties of these cells. Western blot and immunofluorescence analyses were used to confirm findings of upregulated ciliary neurotrophic factor receptor subunit–α (CNTFRα) in undifferentiated tumor-initiating cells and gliomas of increasing tumor grade. Sequencing of the CNTFRα coding regions was performed for mutation analysis. Finally, antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity was used to establish the role of CNTFRα as a potential immunotherapeutic target.
Ciliary neurotrophic factor receptor subunit–α expression was increased in tumor-initiating cells and was decreased in the cells' differentiated progeny, and expression levels increased with glioma grade. Mutations of CNTFRα are not common in gliomas. Functional studies using CNTF treatment in glioma tumor-initiating cells showed induction of differentiation through the CNTFRα pathway. Treatment with anti-CNTFRα antibody resulted in increased antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity in CNTFRα expressing DAOY cells but not in cell lines that lack CNTFRα.
These data indicate that CNTFRα plays a role in the formation or maintenance of tumor-initiating cells in gliomas, is a marker that correlates with histological grade, may underlie treatment resistance in some cases, and is a potential therapeutic target.