The lifetime of hypoxic human tumor cells

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1998 Nov 1;42(4):711-5. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(98)00305-8.


Purpose: For hypoxic and anoxic cells in solid tumors to be a therapeutic problem, they must live long enough to be therapeutically relevant, or else be rapidly recruited into the proliferating compartment during therapy. We have, therefore, estimated lifetime and recruitment rate of hypoxic human tumor cells in multicell spheroids in vitro, or in xenografted tumors in SCID mice.

Materials and methods: Cell turnover was followed by flow cytometry techniques, using antibodies directed at incorporated halogenated pyrimidines. The disappearance of labeled cells was quantified, and verified to be cell loss rather than label dilution. Repopulation was studied in SiHa tumor xenografts during twice-daily 2.5-Gy radiation exposures.

Results: The longevity of hypoxic human tumor cells in spheroids or xenografts exceeded that of rodent cell lines, and cell turnover was slower in xenografts than under static growth as spheroids. Human tumor cells remained viable in the hypoxic regions of xenografts for 4-10 days, compared to 3-5 days in spheroids, and 1-3 days for most rodent cells in spheroids. Repopulation was observed within the first few radiation treatments for the SiHa xenografts and, with accumulated doses of more than 10 Gy, virtually all recovered cells had progressed through at least one S-phase.

Conclusion: Our results suggest an important difference in the ability of human vs. rodent tumor cells to withstand hypoxia, and raise questions concerning the increased longevity seen in vivo relative to the steady-state spheroid system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Hypoxia / physiology*
  • Cell Hypoxia / radiation effects
  • Cell Survival / physiology*
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Spheroids, Cellular / cytology*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / radiation effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured