• cancer stem cells;
  • CD133;
  • chemotherapy;
  • herpes simplex virus;
  • HSV;
  • rhabdomyosarcoma



Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is characterized by features of skeletal muscle and is comprised of two major histological subtypes, embryonal (E-RMS), and alveolar (A-RMS). Subsets of each RMS subtype demonstrate resistance to multimodal therapy leading to treatment failure. Cancer stem cells or cancer-initiating cells (CIC) represent a theorized population of cells that give rise to tumors and are responsible for treatment resistance.


We investigated the ability of CD133, a putative CIC marker, to distinguish a chemoresistant, myogenically primitive population in alveolar (RH30), and embryonal (RD) RMS cell lines. We tested CD133+/− cells for sensitivity to engineered herpes simplex virus (oHSV).


Relative to CD133− cells, CD133+ A-RMS, and E-RMS cells demonstrate an enhanced colony-forming ability, are less differentiated myogenically, and are more resistant to cytotoxic chemotherapy but equally sensitive to oHSV oncolysis. Compared to CD133− RD cells, CD133+ cells express relatively high levels of genes typically expressed in skeletal muscle progenitor satellite cells including PAX7, c-MET, and the GLI effectors of the hedgehog signaling pathway. In contrast, CD133+ RH30 cells were not associated with enhanced expression of satellite cell markers or Hh targets.


Our findings demonstrate that CD133+ cells from A-RMS and E-RMS cell lines are characterized by a myogenically primitive phenotype. These cells have the capacity to form colonies in vitro and are more resistant to chemotherapy than CD133− cells. CD133 expression may denote a subset of RMS cells with an important role in tumorigenesis and treatment failure. These resistant cells may be effectively targeted by oHSV therapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer 2013; 60: 45–52. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.