Background: Tumor cells with stem-like phenotype and properties, known as cancer stem cells (CSC), have been identified in most solid tumors and are presumed to be responsible for driving tumor initiation, chemoresistance, relapse, or metastasis. A subpopulation of cells with increased stem-like potential has also been identified within sarcomas. These cells are endowed with increased tumorigenic potential, chemoresistance, expression of embryonic markers, and side population(SP) phenotype. Leiomyosarcomas (LMS) are soft tissue sarcomas presumably arising from undifferentiated cells of mesenchymal origin, the Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC). Frequent recurrence of LMS and chemoresistance of relapsed patients may likely result from the failure to target CSC. Therefore, therapeutic cues coming from the cancer stem cell (CSC) field may drastically improve patient outcome.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We expanded LMS stem-like cells from patient samples in vitro and examined the possibility to counteract LMS malignancy through a stem-like cell effective approach. LMS stem-like cells were in vitro expanded both as ‘‘tumor spheres’’ and as ‘‘monolayers’’ in Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC) conditions. LMS stem-like cells displayed MSC phenotype, higher SP fraction, and increased drug-extrusion, extended proliferation potential, self-renewal, and multiple differentiation ability. They were chemoresistant, highly tumorigenic, and faithfully reproduced the patient tumor in mice. Such cells displayed activation of EGFR/AKT/MAPK pathways, suggesting a possibility in overcoming their chemoresistance through EGFR blockade. IRESSA plus Vincristine treatment determined pathway inactivation, impairment of SP phenotype, high cytotoxicity in vitro and strong antitumor activity in stem-like cell-generated patient-like xenografts, targeting both stem-like and differentiated cells.
Conclusions/Significance: EGFR blockade combined with vincristine determines stem-like cell effective antitumor activity in vitro and in vivo against LMS, thus providing a potential therapy for LMS patients.