The concept of the so-called cancer stem cell (CSC) holds that only a minority of cells within a tumor have the ability to generate a new tumor. Over the last decade, a large body of literature has implicated the protein CD133 as a marker of organ-specific adult stem cells and in some cancers as a bona fide CSC marker. In this issue of the JCI, Shmelkov et al. challenge the view that CD133 is a marker of CSCs in colon cancer (see the related article beginning on page 2111). CD133 was thought previously to have a very restricted distribution within tissues; the authors have used genetic knock-in models to demonstrate that CD133 in fact is expressed on a wide range of differentiated epithelial cells in adult mouse tissues and on spontaneous primary colon tumors in mice. In primary human colon tumors, all of the epithelial cells also expressed CD133, whereas metastatic colon cancers isolated from liver had distinct CD133+ and CD133– epithelial populations. Intriguingly, the authors demonstrate that the CD133+ and CD133– populations were equally capable of tumor initiation in xenografts. In light of these new findings, the popular notion that CD133 is a marker of colon CSCs may need to be revised.


Mark A. LaBarge, Mina J. Bissell


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