What do we learn from spheroid culture systems? Insights from tumorspheres derived from primary colon cancer tissue

Komal Qureshi-Baig, Pit Ullmann, Fabien Rodriguez, Sónia Frasquilho, Petr V. Nazarov, Serge Haan, Elisabeth Letellier

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47 Citations (Scopus)


Due to their self-renewal and tumorigenic properties, tumor-initiating cells (TICs) have been hypothesized to be important targets for colorectal cancer (CRC). However the study of TICs is hampered by the fact that the identification and culturing of TICs is still a subject of extensive debate. Floating three-dimensional spheroid cultures (SC) that grow in serumfree medium supplemented with growth factors are supposed to be enriched in TICs. We generated SC from fresh clinical tumor specimens and compared them to SC isolated from CRC cell-lines as well as to adherent differentiated counterparts. Patient-derived SC display self-renewal capacity and can induce serial transplantable tumors in immuno-deficient mice, which phenotypically resemble the tumor of origin. In addition, the original tumor tissue and established SC retain several similar CRC-relevant mutations. Primary SC express key stemness proteins such as SOX2, OCT4, NANOG and LGR5 and importantly show increased chemoresistance ability compared to their adherent differentiated counterparts and to cell line-derived SC. Strikingly, cells derived from spheroid or adherent differentiating culture conditions displayed similar self-renewal capacity and equally formed tumors in immune-deficient mice, suggesting that self-renewal and tumor-initiation capacity of TICs is not restricted to phenotypically immature spheroid cells, which we describe to be highly plastic and able to reacquire stem-cell traits even after long differentiation processes. Finally, we identified two genes among a sphere gene expression signature that predict disease relapse in CRC patients. Here we propose that SC derived from fresh patient tumor tissue present interesting phenotypic features that may have clinical relevance for chemoresistance and disease relapse and therefore represent a valuable tool to test for new CRCtherapies that overcome drug resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0146052
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2016


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