Tumor cell subpopulations that express cancer stem cell markers such as CD133 (prominin1) or ABCB5 are thought to be crucial for tumor initiation and heterogeneity, but their biological significance in melanoma has been controversial. Here, we report that CD133+ and ABCB5+ subpopulations are colocalized in melanomas in perivascular niches that contain CD144 (VE-cadherin)+ melanoma cells forming vessel-like channels, a phenomenon termed vasculogenic mimicry (VM). RNAi-mediated attenuation of CD133 established its critical function in morphogenesis of these perivascular niches as well as in melanoma tumorigenicity. Niche-associated genes CD144 and ABCB5 were downregulated in tumors derived from CD133 knockdown (KD) melanoma cells compared with controls. CD133KD cells also lacked the ability to form CD144+ VM-like channels in a manner that was associated with a depletion of the ABCB5+ cell subpopulation. Finally, CD133 KD cells exhibited poorer tumor growth in vivo. Taken together, our findings corroborate models in which CD133+/ABCB5+ melanoma cells reside in a complex anastomosing microvascular niche that encompasses CD144+ VM channels as well as authentic endothelial cell-lined blood vessels. Further, they indicate that CD133+ cells act as stem-like cells, which drive tumor growth by promoting VM and the morphogenesis of a specialized perivascular niche in melanoma. Cancer Res; 72(19); 5111–8. ©2012 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Cancer Research Online (http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received February 17, 2012.
- Revision received June 23, 2012.
- Accepted July 6, 2012.
- ©2012 American Association for Cancer Research.