Glioma-Associated Stem Cells: A Novel Class of Tumor-Supporting Cells Able to Predict Prognosis of Human Low-Grade Gliomas



Background: Translational medicine aims at transferring advances in basic science research into new approaches for diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Low-grade gliomas (LGG) have a heterogeneous clinical behavior that can be only partially predicted employing current state-of-the-art markers, hindering the decision-making process. To deepen our comprehension on tumor heterogeneity, we dissected the mechanism of interaction between tumor cells and relevant components of the neoplastic environment, isolating, from LGG and high-grade gliomas (HGG), proliferating stem cell lines from both the glioma stroma and, where possible, the neoplasm. Methods and Findings: We isolated glioma-associated stem cells (GASC) from LGG (n=40) and HGG (n=73). GASC showed stem cell features, anchorage-independent growth, and supported the malignant properties of both A172 cells and human glioma-stem cells, mainly through the release of exosomes. Finally, starting from GASC obtained from HGG (n=13) and LGG (n=12) we defined a score, based on the expression of 9 GASC surface markers, whose prognostic value was assayed on 40 subsequent LGG-patients. At the multivariate Cox analysis, the GASC-based score was the only independent predictor of overall survival and malignant progression free-survival. Conclusions: The microenvironment of both LGG and HGG hosts non-tumorigenic multipotent stem cells that can increase in vitro the biological aggressiveness of glioma-initiating cells through the release of exosomes. The clinical importance of this finding is supported by the strong prognostic value associated with the characteristics of GASC. This patient-based approach can provide a groundbreaking method to predict prognosis and to exploit novel strategies that target the tumor stroma. Stem Cells 2014;32:1239–1253