Stem-like and non-stem human pancreatic cancer cells distinguished by morphology and metastatic behavior

J Cell Biochem. 2011 Dec;112(12):3549-54. doi: 10.1002/jcb.23282.


We report here that XPA1 human pancreatic cancer cells are dimorphic. After injection in the spleen, XPA1 cells isolated from the primary tumor in the spleen were predominantly round; while cells isolated from the resulting liver metastasis and ascites were comprised of both round- and spindle-shaped cell types. Cancer cells previously grown in the spleen and re-implanted in the spleen developed large primary tumors in the spleen only. Cancer cells isolated from liver metastasis and re-transplanted to the spleen resulted in a primary tumor in the spleen and liver metastasis. Cancer cells derived from ascites and re-transplanted to the spleen developed primary tumors in the spleen and distant metastasis in the liver, lung, and diaphragm in addition to ascites formation. Spindle and round cells were differentially labeled with fluorescent proteins of different colors. After co-injection of the two cell types in the spleen, cells were isolated from the primary tumors, liver metastasis, and ascites and analyzed by color-coded fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). No significant differences between the percentages of spindle-shaped and round cancer cells in the primary tumor and the liver metastasis were observed. However, spindle-shaped cancer cells were enriched in the ascites. One hundred percent of the spindle-shaped and round cancer cells expressed CD44, suggesting that morphology and metastatic behavior rather than CD44 expression can distinguish the stem-like cells of the XPA1 pancreatic cancer cell line. The spindle-shaped cancer cells had the greater capability for distant metastasis and ascites formation, suggesting they are stem-like cells, which can be readily targeted for therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Separation
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*