Intratumoral heterogeneity in the self-renewal and tumorigenic differentiation of ovarian cancer

Sagi Abelson, Yeela Shamai, Liron Berger, Roni Shouval, Karl Skorecki, Maty Tzukerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Resistance to anticancer therapy has been attributed to interindividual differences in gene expression pathways among tumors, and to the existence within tumors of cancer stem cells with self-renewal capacity. In previous studies, we have demonstrated that the human embryonic stem cell (hESC)- derived cellular microenvironment in immunocompromised mice enables functional distinction of heterogeneous tumor cells, including cells that do not grow into a tumor in conventional direct tumor xenograft platform. In the current study, we use clonally expanded subpopulations derived from ovarian clear cell carcinoma of a single tumor, to demonstrate striking intratumoral phenotypic heterogeneity that is dynamically dependent on the tumor growth microenvironment. Each of six clonally expanded subpopulations displays a different level of morphologic and tumorigenic differentiation, wherein growth in the hESC-derived microenvironment favors growth of CD441 aldehyde dehydrogenase positive pockets of self-renewing cells that sustain tumor growth through a process of tumorigenic differentiation into CD442 aldehyde dehydrogenase negative derivatives. Strikingly, these derivative cells display microenvironment-dependent plasticity with the capacity to restore self-renewal and CD44 expression. Such intratumoral heterogeneity and plasticity at the level of the key properties of self-renewal and tumorigenic differentiation suggests that a paradigm shift is needed in the approach to anticancer therapy, with the aim of turning malignant growth into a chronic manageable disorder, based on continual monitoring of these tumor growth properties. The hESC-based in vivo model renders intratumoral heterogeneity in the self-renewal and tumorigenic differentiation amenable to biological analysis as well as anticancer therapy testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-424
Number of pages10
JournalStem Cells
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer stem cell niche
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Human embryonic stem cells
  • Niche-dependent self-renewal capacity
  • Tumor microenvironment


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