Background: Brain metastases are most common in adults with lung cancer, predicting uniformly poor patient outcome, with a median survival of only months. Despite their frequency and severity, very little is known about tumorigenesis in brain metastases.
Methods: We applied previously developed primary solid tumor-initiating cell models to the study of brain metastases from the lung to evaluate the presence of a cancer stem cell population. Patient-derived brain metastases (n = 20) and the NCI-H1915 cell line were cultured as stem-enriching tumorspheres. We used in vitro limiting-dilution and sphere-forming assays, as well as intracranial human-mouse xenograft models. To determine genes overexpressed in brain metastasis tumorspheres, we performed comparative transcriptome analysis. All statistical analyses were two-sided.
Results: Patient-derived brain metastasis tumorspheres had a mean sphere-forming capacity of 33 spheres/2000 cells (SD = 33.40) and median stem-cell frequency of 1/60 (range = 0-1/141), comparable to that of primary brain tumorspheres (P = .53 and P = .20, respectively). Brain metastases also expressed CD15 and CD133, markers suggestive of a stemlike population. Through intracranial xenotransplantation, brain metastasis tumorspheres were found to recapitulate the original patient tumor heterogeneity. We also identified several genes overexpressed in brain metastasis tumorspheres as statistically significant predictors of poor survival in primary lung cancer.
Conclusions: For the first time, we demonstrate the presence of a stemlike population in brain metastases from the lung. We also show that NCI-H1915 tumorspheres could be useful in studying self-renewal and tumor initiation in brain metastases. Our candidate genes may be essential to metastatic stem cell populations, where pathway interference may be able to transform a uniformly fatal disease into a more localized and treatable one.