Background: Isolation of colorectal cancer (CRC) cell populations enriched for cancer stem cells (CSCs) may facilitate target identification. There is no consensus regarding the best methods for isolating CRC stem cells (CRC-SCs). We determined the suitability of various cellular models and various stem cell markers for the isolation of CRC-SCs.
Methods: Established human CRC cell lines, established CRC cell lines passaged through mice, patient-derived xenograft (PDX)-derived cells, early passage/newly established cell lines, and cells directly from clinical specimens were studied. Cells were FAC-sorted for the CRC-SC markers CD44, CD133, and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Sphere formation and in vivo tumorigenicity studies were used to validate CRC-SC enrichment.
Results: None of the markers studied in established cell lines, grown either in vitro or in vivo, consistently enriched for CRC-SCs. In the three other cellular models, CD44 and CD133 did not reliably enrich for stemness. In contrast, freshly isolated PDX-derived cells or early passage/newly established CRC cell lines with high ALDH activity formed spheres in vitro and enhanced tumorigenicity in vivo, whereas cells with low ALDH activity did not.
Conclusions: PDX-derived cells, early passages/newly established CRC cell lines and cells from clinical specimen with high ALDH activity can be used to identify CRC-SC-enriched populations. Established CRC cell lines should not be used to isolate CSCs.