The intestinal epithelial lining is one of the most rapidly renewing cell populations in the body. As a result, the gut has been an attractive model to resolve key mechanisms in epithelial homeostasis. In particular the role of intestinal stem cells (ISCs) in the renewal process has been intensely studied. Interestingly, as opposed to the traditional stem cell theory, the ISC is not a static population but displays significant plasticity and in situations of tissue regeneration more differentiated cells can revert back to a stem cell state upon exposure to extracellular signals. Importantly, normal intestinal homeostasis provides important insight into mechanisms that drive colorectal cancer (CRC) development and growth. Specifically, the dynamics of cancer stem cells bear important resemblance to ISC functionality. In this review we present an overview of the current knowledge on ISCs in homeostasis and their role in malignant transformation. Also, we discuss the existence of stem cells in intestinal adenomas and CRC and how these cells contribute to (pre-)malignant growth. Furthermore, we will focus on new paradigms in the field of dynamical cellular hierarchies in CRC and the intimate relationship between tumor cells and their niche.
A new paper about the spatiotemporal regulation of clonogenicity in colorectal cancer xenografts has been published in PNAS. Check it out here.
After being nominated by their AG&M PI’s and selected by members of the AG&M research board, five contestants (Arwen Gao, Lowiek Hubers, Sophie Lodestijn, Sofia El Manouni El Hassani (for Daan Berkhout) and Ivo Hansen) pitched their first authorship publication from 2018 during the AG&M symposium: Complex Genetics of Metabolic Disease. The audience voted for the best pitch. Sophie Lodestijn and Arwen Gao had exactly the same amount of votes and have been awarded the 2018 AG&M best publication prize.
Cancer evolution is predominantly studied by focusing on differences in the genetic characteristics of malignant cells within tumors. However, the spatiotemporal dynamics of clonal outgrowth that underlie evolutionary trajectories remain largely unresolved. Here, we sought to unravel the clonal dynamics of colorectal cancer (CRC) expansion in space and time by using a color-based clonal tracing method. This method involves lentiviral red-green-blue (RGB) marking of cell populations, which enabled us to track individual cells and their clonal outgrowth during tumor initiation and growth in a xenograft model. We found that clonal expansion largely depends on the location of a clone, as small clones reside in the center and large clones mostly drive tumor growth at the border. These dynamics are recapitulated in a computational model, which confirms that the clone position within a tumor rather than cell-intrinsic features, is crucial for clonal outgrowth. We also found that no significant clonal loss occurs during tumor growth and clonal dispersal is limited in most models. Our results imply that, in addition to molecular features of clones such as (epi-)genetic differences between cells, clone location and the geometry of tumor growth are crucial for clonal expansion. Our findings suggest that either microenvironmental signals on the tumor border or differences in physical properties within the tumor, are major contributors to explain heterogeneous clonal expansion. Thus, this study provides further insights into the dynamics of solid tumor growth and progression, as well as the origins of tumor cell heterogeneity in a relevant model system.
Lack of expression of the intestinal transcription factor CDX2 in colorectal cancer (CRC) identifies patients with a poor prognosis. This biomarker has previously been suggested to be prognostic in CRCs with a high stromal content based on mRNA expression data. We investigated the prognostic value of CDX2 expression in microsatellite stable CRC stratified by stromal content using microscopy-based techniques.