Lectins identify glycan biomarkers on glioblastoma-derived cancer stem cells

Carol Tucker-Burden, Prasanthi Chappa, Malini Krishnamoorthy, Brian A. Gerwe, Christopher D. Scharer, Jamie Heimburg-Molinaro, Wayne Harris, Sümeyra Naz Usta, Carmen D. Eilertson, Constantinos G. Hadjipanayis, Steven L. Stice, Daniel J. Brat, Rodney J. Nash*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Glioblastoma (GBM) is a highly aggressive primary brain tumor with a poor prognosis. Despite aggressive therapy with surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, nearly all patients succumb to disease within 2 years. Several studies have supported the presence of stem-like cells in brain tumor cultures that are CD133-positive, are capable of self-renewal, and give rise to all cell types found within the tumor, potentially perpetuating growth. CD133 is a widely accepted marker for glioma-derived cancer stem cells; however, its reliability has been questioned, creating a need for other identifiers of this biologically important subpopulation. We used a panel of 20 lectins to identify differences in glycan expression found in the glycocalyx of undifferentiated glioma-derived stem cells and differentiated cells that arise from them. Fluorescently labeled lectins that specifically recognize α-N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) and α-N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) differentially bound to the cell surface based on the state of cellular differentiation. GalNAc and GlcNAc were highly expressed on the surface of undifferentiated cells and showed markedly reduced expression over a 12-day duration of differentiation. Additionally, the GalNAc-recognizing lectin Dolichos biflorus agglutinin was capable of specifically selecting and sorting glioma-derived stem cell populations from an unsorted tumor stock and this subpopulation had proliferative properties similar to CD133+ cells in vitro and also had tumor-forming capability in vivo. Our preliminary results on a single cerebellar GBM suggest that GalNAc and GlcNAc are novel biomarkers for identifying glioma-derived stem cells and can be used to isolate cancer stem cells from unsorted cell populations, thereby creating new cell lines for research or clinical testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2374-2386
Number of pages13
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number13
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Hematology


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