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Abstract

Emerging evidence suggests that tumors contain and are driven by a cellular component that displays stem cell properties, the so-called cancer stem cells (CSCs). CSCs have been identified in several solid human cancers; however, there are no data about CSCs in primary human gastric cancer (GC). By using CD133 and CD44 cell surface markers we investigated whether primary human GCs contain a cell subset expressing stem-like properties and whether this subpopulation has tumor-initiating properties in xenograft transplantation experiments. We examined tissues from 44 patients who underwent gastrectomy for primary GC. The tumorigenicity of the cells separated by flow cytometry using CD133 and CD44 surface markers was tested by subcutaneous or intraperitoneum injection in NOD/SCID and nude mice. GCs included in the study were intestinal in 34 cases and diffuse in 10 cases. All samples contained surface marker-positive cells: CD133+ mean percentage 10.6% and CD133+/CD44+ mean percentage 27.7%, irrespective of cancer phenotype or grade of differentiation. Purified CD133+ and CD133+/CD44+ cells, obtained in sufficient number only in 12 intestinal type GC cases, failed to reproduce cancer in two mice models. However, the unseparated cells produced glandular-like structures in 70% of the mice inoculated. In conclusion, although CD133+ and CD133+/CD44+ were detectable in human primary GCs, they neither expressed stem-like properties nor exhibited tumor-initiating properties in xenograft transplantation experiments. J. Cell. Physiol. 227: 2686–2693, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.