Enrichment of CD133-Expressing Cells in Rectal Cancers Treated With Preoperative Radiochemotherapy Is an Independent Marker for Metastasis and Survival

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The transmembrane glycoprotein CD133 (cluster of differentiation 133; also known as Prominin or PROM1) has been described as a potential stem cell marker in colorectal cancer and is associated with higher tumorigenic potential and resistance to radiochemotherapy (RCT). In this study, CD133 expression was evaluated in pre-RCT tumor biopsies and the corresponding post-RCT surgical specimens from patients with locally advanced rectal adenocarcinoma, and expression levels were correlated with histopathologic features and clinical follow-up.


One hundred twenty-six patients with International Union Against Cancer (UICC) stage II/III rectal cancer who received preoperative 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based RCT within the German Rectal Cancer Trials were investigated. Pre-RCT and post-RCT CD133 expression levels were determined using immunohistochemistry and were correlated with histopathologic parameters, tumor regression grade, cancer recurrence, and patient survival.


Compared with pre-RCT biopsies, significantly higher CD133 expression was observed in tumor specimens (P = .01). However, no correlations were observed for either biopsies or tumor specimens between CD133 expression levels, histopathologic characteristics, or survival. In matched analyses of corresponding biopsy/tumor pairs, patients who had an increased fraction of CD133-expressing (CD133+) cells after preoperative RCT had significantly higher residual tumor stages (P = .02) and lower histopathologic tumor regression (P < .01). Moreover, these patients had significantly reduced disease-free survival and cancer-specific overall survival in univariate analysis (P < .001 and P = .004, respectively) and multivariate analysis (P = .003 and P = .024, respectively).


The enrichment of CD133+ cancer cells during preoperative RCT was correlated with minor local tumor response, increased distant cancer recurrence, and decreased survival. The current results indicate that the up-regulation of intratumoral CD133 expression, in contrast to absolute pre-RCT and post-RCT CD133 levels, plays an important role in tumor progression and metastasis in patients with rectal cancer who are receiving neoadjuvant RCT. Cancer 2013. © 2012 American Cancer Society.

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