New publication by Melanie Generali in Journal Genes

New insights into the biology of an aggressive pediatric cancer, which will help focus future research goals.

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is the most common soft tissue sarcoma in children. Fusion-positive RMS (FPRMS), expressing the PAX3/7-FOXO1, has a worse prognosis compared to the more common fusion-negative RMS (FNRMS). Although several studies reported hierarchical organization for FNRMS with the identification of cancer stem cells, the cellular organization of FPRMS is not yet clear. In this study we investigated the expression of key stem cell markers, developed a sphere assay, and investigated the seven most common FPRMS cell lines for subpopulations of tumor propagating cancer stem-like cells, also called cancer stem cells (CSCs). Moreover, loss- and gain-of-functions of the stem cell genes SOX2, OCT4, and NANOG were investigated in the same cells. Single-cell clonal analysis was performed in vitro as well as in vivo. We found that no stable CSC subpopulation could be enriched in FPRMS. Unlike depletion of PAX3-FOXO1, neither overexpression nor siRNA-mediated downregulation of SOX2, OCT4, and NANOG affected physiology of RMS cells. Every single subclone-derived cell clone initiated tumor growth in mice, despite displaying considerable heterogeneity in gene expression. FPRMS appears to contain a high frequency of tumor propagating stem-like cells, which could explain their higher propensity for metastasis and relapse. Their dependency on PAX3-FOXO1 activity reinforces the importance of the fusion protein as the key therapeutic target.

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Melanie Generali