Xenografts in zebrafish embryos as a rapid functional assay for breast cancer stem-like cell identification

Cell Cycle. 2011 Nov 1;10(21):3751-7. doi: 10.4161/cc.10.21.17921. Epub 2011 Nov 1.


The cancer stem cell is defined by its capacity to self-renew, the potential to differentiate into all cells of the tumor and the ability to proliferate and drive the expansion of the tumor. Thus, targeting these cells may provide novel anti-cancer treatment strategies. Breast cancer stem cells have been isolated according to surface marker expression, ability to efflux fluorescent dyes, increased activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase or the capacity to form spheres in non-adherent culture conditions. In order to test novel drugs directed towards modulating self-renewal of cancer stem cells, rapid, easy and inexpensive assays must be developed. Using 2 days-post-fertilization (dpf) zebrafish embryos as transplant recipients, we show that cells grown in mammospheres from breast carcinoma cell lines migrate to the tail of the embryo and form masses with a significantly higher frequency than parental monolayer populations. When stem-like self-renewal was targeted in the parental population by the use of the dietary supplement curcumin, cell migration and mass formation were reduced, indicating that these effects were associated with stem-like cell content. This is a proof of principle report that proposes a rapid and inexpensive assay to target in vivo cancer stem-like cells, which may be used to unravel basic cancer stem cell biology and for drug screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays / methods*
  • Zebrafish / embryology*


  • Curcumin