Selection of brain metastasis-initiating breast cancer cells determined by growth on hard agar

Lixia Guo, Dominic Fan, Fahao Zhang, Janet E. Price, Ju Seog Lee, Dario Marchetti, Isaiah J. Fidler, Robert R. Langley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


An approach that facilitates rapid isolation and characterization of tumor cells with enhanced metastatic potential is highly desirable. Here, we demonstrate that plating GI-101A human breast cancer cells on hard (0.9%) agar selects for the subpopulation of metastasis-initiating cells. The agar-selected cells, designated GIAGR, were homogeneous for CD44+ and CD133 + and five times more invasive than the parental GI-101A cells. Moreover, mice injected with GI-AGR cells had significantly more experimental brain metastases and shorter overall survival than did mice injected with GI-101A cells. Comparative gene expression analysis revealed that GI-AGR cells were markedly distinct from the parental cells but shared an overlapping pattern of gene expression with the GI-101A subline GI-BRN, which was generated by repeated in vivo recycling of GI-101A cells in an experimental brain metastasis model. Data mining on 216 genes shared between GI-AGR and GI-BRN breast cancer cells suggested that the molecular phenotype of these cells is consistent with that of cancer stem cells and the aggressive basal subtype of breast cancer. Collectively, these results demonstrate that analysis of cell growth in a hard agar assay is a powerful tool for selecting metastasis-initiating cells in a heterogeneous population of breast cancer cells, and that such selected cells have properties similar to those of tumor cells that are selected based on their potential to form metastases in mice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2357-2366
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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