Development of a fluorescent reporter system to delineate cancer stem cells in triple-negative breast cancer

Praveena S. Thiagarajan, Masahiro Hitomi, James S. Hale, Alvaro G. Alvarado, Balint Otvos, Maksim Sinyuk, Kevin Stoltz, Andrew Wiechert, Erin Mulkearns-Hubert, Awad M. Jarrar, Qiao Zheng, Dustin Thomas, Thomas T. Egelhoff, Jeremy N. Rich, Huiping Liu, Justin D. Lathia*, Ofer Reizes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Advanced cancers display cellular heterogeneity driven by self-renewing, tumorigenic cancer stem cells (CSCs). The use of cell lines to model CSCs is challenging due to the difficulty of identifying and isolating cell populations that possess differences in self-renewal and tumor initiation. To overcome these barriers in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), we developed a CSC system using a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter for the promoter of the well-established pluripotency gene NANOG. NANOG-GFP+ cells gave rise to both GFP+ and GFP- cells, and GFP+ cells possessed increased levels of the embryonic stem cell transcription factors NANOG, SOX2, and OCT4 and elevated self-renewal and tumor initiation capacities. GFP+ cells also expressed mesenchymal markers and demonstrated increased invasion. Compared with the well-established CSC markers CD24-/CD44+, CD49f, and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity, our NANOG-GFP reporter system demonstrated increased enrichment for CSCs. To explore the utility of this system as a screening platform, we performed a flow cytometry screen that confirmed increased CSC marker expression in the GFP+ population and identified new cell surface markers elevated in TNBC CSCs, including junctional adhesion molecule-A (JAM-A). JAM-A was highly expressed in GFP+ cells and patient-derived xenograft ALDH+ CSCs compared with the GFP- and ALDH- cells, respectively. Depletion of JAM-A compromised self-renewal, whereas JAM-A overexpression induced self-renewal in GFP- cells. Our data indicate that we have defined and developed a robust system to monitor differences between CSCs and non-CSCs in TNBC that can be used to identify CSC-specific targets for the development of future therapeutic strategies. Stem Cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2114-2125
Number of pages12
JournalStem Cells
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Cancer stem cell
  • Fluorescent reporter system
  • Junctional adhesion molecule-A
  • Triple-negative breast cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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