Identification of progenitor cancer stem cell in lentigo maligna melanoma


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: M. R. Bongiorno, MD, Department of Dermatology, University of Palermo, Via del Vespro 131, Palermo 90127, Italy, or email:


ABSTRACT:  The potential role of stem cells in neoplasia has aroused considerable interest over the past few years. A number of known biologic characteristics of melanomas support the theory that they may originate in a mutated stem cell. Melanocytic stem cell markers have been described recently. Moreover, the CD133 cells that show surface markers for CD34 are stem cells primitive. These stem cells are capable of differentiating into neurons, glia, keratinocytes, smooth muscle cells, and melanocytes in vitro. The identification of cancer stem/initiating cells with a crucial role in tumor formation may open up new pharmacologic perspectives. The purpose of this study is to detect the expression of CD133 and CD34, two putative markers of cancer stem cells in the lentigo maligna melanoma. Thirty cases of lentigo maligna melanoma were analyzed using indirect immunohistochemical staining. The vast majority of the samples analyzed showed the presence of rare cells, which were clearly positive for CD133 and CD34. Strong CD133 and CD34 staining was found in the outer root sheath of the mid-lower hair follicles, intermixed with atypical melanocytes extending along layers of the hair follicles. A number of these staminal cells were adjacent and intermixed with melanoma cells. This study supports the stem cell origin of this tumor and suggests that the precursor of the melanoma in question is a stem-like cell rather than the primitive melanoblast committed to be exclusively involved in melanocytic differentiation.