Aldehyde dehydrogenase activity as a functional marker for lung cancer

Chem Biol Interact. 2009 Mar 16;178(1-3):48-55. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2008.09.029. Epub 2008 Oct 5.


Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity has been implicated in multiple biological and biochemical pathways and has been used to identify potential cancer stem cells. Our main hypothesis is that ALDH activity may be a lung cancer stem cell marker. Using flow cytometry, we sorted cells with bright (ALDH(br)) and dim (ALDH(lo)) ALDH activity found in H522 lung cancer cell line. We used in vitro proliferation and colony assays as well as a xenograft animal model to test our hypothesis. Cytogenetic analysis demonstrated that the ALDH(br) cells are indeed a different clone, but when left in normal culture conditions will give rise to ALDH(lo) cells. Furthermore, the ALDH(br) cells grow slower, have low clonal efficiency, and give rise to morphologically distinct colonies. The ability to form primary xenografts in NOD/SCID mice by ALDH(br) and ALDH(lo) cells was tested by injecting single cell suspension under the skin in each flank of same animal. Tumor size was calculated weekly. ALDH1A1 and ALDH3A1 immunohistochemistry (IHC) was performed on excised tumors. These tumors were also used to re-establish cell suspension, measure ALDH activity, and re-injection for secondary and tertiary transplants. The results indicate that both cell types can form tumors but the ones from ALDH(br) cells grew much slower in primary recipient mice. Histologically, there was no significant difference in the expression of ALDH in primary tumors originating from ALDH(br) or ALDH(lo) cells. Secondary and tertiary xenografts originating from ALDH(br) grew faster and bigger than those formed by ALDH(lo) cells. In conclusion, ALDH(br) cells may have some of the traditional features of stem cells in terms of being mostly dormant and slow to divide, but require support of other cells (ALDH(lo)) to sustain tumor growth. These observations and the known role of ALDH in drug resistance may have significant therapeutic implications in the treatment of lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, SCID
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Stem Cells / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase