Archives of Dermatological Research

, Volume 305, Issue 1, pp 35–47 | Cite as

Cancer stem-like cells enriched with CD29 and CD44 markers exhibit molecular characteristics with epithelial–mesenchymal transition in squamous cell carcinoma

  • Songmei Geng
  • Yuanyuan Guo
  • Qianqian Wang
  • Lan Li
  • Jianli Wang
Original Paper


Increasing evidences have indicated that only a phenotypic subset of cancer cells, termed as the cancer stem cells (CSCs), is capable of initiating tumor growth and provide a reservoir of cells that cause tumor recurrence after therapy. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT), a cell type change from an epithelial cobblestone phenotype to an elongated fibroblastic phenotype, plays a critical role not only in tumor metastasis but also in tumor recurrence and contributes to drug resistance. Accumulating evidence has shown that cells with an EMT phenotype are rich sources for CSCs, suggesting a biological link between EMT and CSCs; thus study on the link will help understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of tumor metastasis and drug resistance. CD29 is involved in EMT through cross-talk with cadherins and CD44 has been reported as a successful used marker for CSCs. Here, we try to address whether combination of CD29 and CD44 could be used to identify cancer stem-like cells undergoing EMT in squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and compare the molecular differences between CD29high/CD44high and CD29low/CD44low cells in SCC. Expression pattern of CD29 and CD44 was analyzed in tissues of skin SCC and cultured A431 cells by immunostaining. Subtype cells of CD29high/CD44high and CD29low/CD44low A431 were sorted by fluorescence-activated cell sorting and proliferating abilities were assayed by cell counting, colony forming and tumorigenicity in NOD/SCID mice. Finally, to probe more deeply into the molecular differences between CD29high/CD44high and CD29low/CD44low A431 cells, gene microarray analysis was applied to compare gene expression profiling. Staining of CD29 and CD44 showed similar heterogeneous expression pattern with positive cells located in the invasion front of SCC tissue as well as in cultured A431 cells. Sorted CD29high/CD44high A431 cells had higher proliferating ability in vitro and in NOD/SCID mice as compared with CD29low/CD44low cells. Gene profiling identified differentiated gene expressions between CD29high/CD44high and CD29low/CD44low A431 cells. These genes are involved in cell cycle, cell malignant transformation, metastasis, drug resistance and EMT, implying that CD29high/CD44high cells have properties of CSCs and EMT. Our present results demonstrated heterogeneous gene expression patterns and different biological behavior in SCC. Combination of CD29 and CD44 can be used as markers to enrich CSCs in human SCC. Moreover, CD29high/CD44high cells exhibit molecular characteristics of EMT, suggesting that CSC-associated pathways were involved in EMT. Studies on correlation of CSCs and the cells undergoing EMT may explain some aspects of tumor progression and drug resistance.


Squamous cell carcinoma Cancer stem cells CD29 CD44 EMT 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Songmei Geng
    • 1
  • Yuanyuan Guo
    • 1
  • Qianqian Wang
    • 1
  • Lan Li
    • 1
  • Jianli Wang
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Dermatology, Northwest HospitalXi’an Jiaotong UniversityXi’anChina
  2. 2.Department of Hematology, Northwest HospitalXi’an Jiaotong UniversityXi’anChina

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