Purpose: Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have been identified in the blood of patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PDAC), but little is known about the exact phenotype of these cells. We assessed expression of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), CD133, and CD44 as markers of CTCs with a tumor-initiating cell (TIC) phenotype in patients with PDAC and the relationship of this expression to patient outcomes.
Experimental Design: Peripheral blood from 60 consecutive patients with PDAC undergoing surgical resection was obtained and processed using the Isolation by Size of Epithelial Tumor (ISET) method. Immunofluorescence was used to identify CTCs expressing cytokeratin, CD133, CD44, and ALDH.
Results: Forty-seven patients (78%) had epithelial CTCs staining positive for pan-cytokeratin and at least one TIC marker. Forty-six patients (77%) had epithelial CTCs that labeled with antibodies to cytokeratin and ALDH. By separate analysis, 34 (57%) had cytokeratin-positive, CD133-positive, and CD44-positive (triple-positive) CTCs, whereas 40 (67%) had cytokeratin-positive, CD133-positive, CD44-negative CTCs. The remaining 13 patients did not have CTCs, as defined by cytokeratin expression. ALDH-positive CTCs and triple-positive CTCs were significantly associated with worse survival by univariate analysis, even when accounting for other significant prognostic factors (all, P ≤ 0.01). ALDH-positive CTCs, triple-positive CTCs, and dual cytokeratin- and CD133-positive CTCs were independent predictors of tumor recurrence by logistic regression analysis and associated with decreased disease-free survival (all, P ≤ 0.03).
Conclusion: CTCs labeling with one or more markers of TICs are found in a majority of patients with PDAC and are independently predictive of decreased disease-free and overall survival. Clin Cancer Res; 1–10. ©2016 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Clinical Cancer Research Online (http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received June 13, 2016.
- Revision received October 5, 2016.
- Accepted October 8, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.