Tumor-propagating cells (TPCs) are believed to drive cancer initiation, progression and recurrence. These cells are characterized by enhanced tumorigenicity and self-renewal. The ability to identify such cells in primary human sarcomas relies on the dye exclusion ability of tumor side population (SP) cells. Here, we performed a high-throughput cell surface antigen screen and found that CD146 is enriched in the SP population. In vivo serial transplantation assays showed that CD146+ cells are highly tumorigenic, capable of self-renewal and thus enriches for the TPC population. In addition, depletion of SP cells from the CD146+ population show that CD146+ cells and SP cells are a distinct and overlapping TPC populations. Gene expression profiling of CD146+ and SP cells revealed multiple pathways commonly upregulated in both of these populations. Inhibition of one of these upregulated pathways, Notch signaling, significantly reduced tumor growth and self-renewal. Our data demonstrate that CD146 is an effective cell surface marker for enriching TPCs in primary human sarcomas. Targeting differentially activated pathways in TPCs may provide new therapeutic strategies for treating sarcoma.
Keywords: CD146; cell signaling; human sarcoma; self-renewal; tumor propagating cells.