Lung cancer tumorigenicity and drug resistance are maintained through ALDHhiCD44hi tumor initiating cells

Jing Liu, Zhijie Xiao, Sunny Kit Man Wong, Vicky Pui Chi Tin, Ka Yan Ho, Junwen Wang, Mai Har Sham, Maria Pik Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Limited improvement in long term survival of lung cancer patients has been achieved by conventional chemotherapy or targeted therapy. To explore the potentials of tumor initiating cells (TIC)-directed therapy, it is essential to identify the cell targets and understand their maintenance mechanisms. We have analyzed the performance of ALDH/CD44 co-expression as TIC markers and treatment targets of lung cancer using well-validated in vitro and in vivo analyses in multiple established and patient-derived lung cancer cells. The ALDHhiCD44hi subset showed the highest enhancement of stem cell phenotypic properties compared to ALDHhiCD44lo, ALDHloCD44hi, ALDHloCD44lo cells and unsorted controls. They showed higher invasion capacities, pluripotency genes and epithelial-mesenchymal transition transcription factors expression, lower intercellular adhesion protein expression and higher G2/M phase cell cycle fraction. In immunosuppressed mice, the ALDHhiCD44hi xenografts showed the highest tumor induction frequency, serial transplantability, shortest latency, largest volume and highest growth rates. Inhibition of sonic Hedgehog and Notch developmental pathways reduced ALDH+CD44+ compartment. Chemotherapy and targeted therapy resulted in higher ALDHhiCD44hi subset viability and ALDHloCD44lo subset apoptosis fraction. ALDH inhibition and CD44 knockdown led to reduced stemness gene expression and sensitization to drug treatment. In accordance, clinical lung cancers containing a higher abundance of ALDH and CD44-coexpressing cells was associated with lower recurrence-free survival. Together, results suggested the ALDHhiCD44hi compartment was the cellular mediator of tumorigenicity and drug resistance. Further investigation of the regulatory mechanisms underlying ALDHhiCD44hi TIC maintenance would be beneficial for the development of long term lung cancer control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1686-1699
Number of pages14
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013


  • Aldehyde dehydrogenase
  • CD44
  • Drug resistance
  • Tumor initiating cell
  • lung cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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