Residual breast cancers after conventional therapy display mesenchymal as well as tumor-initiating features

Chad J. Creighton, Xiaoxian Li, Melissa Landis, J. Michael Dixon, Veronique M. Neumeister, Ashley Sjolund, David L. Rimm, Helen Wong, Angel Augusto Rodriguez, Jason I. Herschkowitz, Cheng Fan, Xiaomei Zhang, Xiaping He, Anne Pavlick, M. Carolina Gutierrez, Lorna Renshaw, Alexey A. Larionov, Dana Faratian, Susan G. Hilsenbeck, Charles M. PerouMichael T. Lewis, Jeffrey M. Rosen, Jenny C. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1158 Scopus citations


Some breast cancers have been shown to contain a small fraction of cells characterized by CD44+/CD24-/low cell-surface antigen profile that have high tumor-initiating potential. In addition, breast cancer cells propagated in vitro as mammospheres (MSs) have also been shown to be enriched for cells capable of self-renewal. In this study, we have defined a gene expression signature common to both CD44+/CD24-/low and MS-forming cells. To examine its clinical significance, we determined whether tumor cells surviving after conventional treatments were enriched for cells bearing this CD44+/ CD24-/low-MS signature. The CD44+/CD24-/low-MS signature was found mainly in human breast tumors of the recently identified "claudin-low" molecular subtype, which is characterized by expression of many epithelial-mesenchymal- transition (EMT)-associated genes. Both CD44+/CD24-/low-MS and claudin-low signatures were more pronounced in tumor tissue remaining after either endocrine therapy (letrozole) or chemotherapy (docetaxel), consistent with the selective survival of tumor-initiating cells posttreatment. We confirmed an increased expression of mesenchymal markers, including vimentin (VIM) in cytokeratin-positive epithelial cells metalloproteinase 2 (MMP2), in two separate sets of postletrozole vs. pretreatment specimens. Taken together, these data provide supporting evidence that the residual breast tumor cell populations surviving after conventional treatment may be enriched for subpopulations of cells with both tumor-initiating and mesenchymal features. Targeting proteins involved in EMT may provide a therapeutic strategy for eliminating surviving cells to prevent recurrence and improve long-term survival in breast cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13820-13825
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 18 2009


  • CD44/CD24 markers
  • Gene expression signature
  • Mesenchymal features
  • Treatment resistance
  • Tumor-initiating cancer cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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