NCAM polysialylation during adherence transitions: Live cell monitoring using an antibody-mimetic EGFP-endosialidase and the viability dye DRAQ7


Institute of Cancer and Genetics, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF14 4XN, United Kingdom. E-mail:


Polysialylation of neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) in small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is thought to regulate NCAM-mediated cell–surface interactions, imparting antiadhesive properties to cells. However, SCLC cells in culture demonstrate anchorage-independent growth and spontaneously generate adherent forms. Here, the ability of polySia-NCAM to influence cell proliferation and adherence is unclear. We analyzed live SCLC cell polySia-NCAM expression by flow cytometry, using the novel combination of a polySia antibody-mimetic eGFP-tagged endosialidase and the viability dye DRAQ7. Enrichment for adherence (<30 population doublings) in SCLC cell lines resolved populations with increased (SHP-77 and COR-L279) or negligible (NCI-H69) polysialylation compared with nonadherent parent populations. Adherent forms retained NCAM expression as confirmed by immunofluorescence and immunoblotting. Initial transition to adherence and loss of polysialylation in NCI-H69 was linked to a reduced proliferation rate with no increase in cell death. This reduced proliferation rate was reiterated in vivo as determined by the growth of noninvasive subcutaneous xenografts in mice. Continued selection for enhanced substrate adherence in NCI-H69 (>150 population doublings) resolved cells with stable re-expression of polySia and increased growth rates both in vitro and in vivo. Endoneuraminidase removal of polySia from re-expressing cells showed that rapid adherence to extracellular matrix components was functionally independent of polySia. PolySia expression was not altered when isolated adherent forms underwent enforced cell–cell contact in three-dimensional culture. Coculture of polySia expression variants modulated overall polySia expression profiles indicating an influence of SCLC microcommunity composition independent of substrate adherence potential. We conclude that an obligatory linkage between substrate adherence potential and polySia expression is rejected for SCLC cells. We suggest that a degree of homeostasis operates to regulate polysialylation within heterogeneous cell populations. The findings suggest a new model for SCLC progression while the application of live cell profiling of polysialylation could be used to assess polySia-NCAM-targeted therapies. © 2013 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry