CD133: To be or not to be, is this the real question?

Elena Irollo, Giuseppe Pirozzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


CD133 (promini-1) is a member of the transmembrane glycoprotein family, was initially described as a specific marker to select human hematopoietic progenitor cells. Then, it was recognised as important marker to identify and isolate the specific cell subpopulation termed "cancer stem cells". Many studies showed that CD133+ cells have stemness properties such as self-renewal, differentiation ability, high proliferation and they are able also to form tumours in xenografts. Moreover it has been demonstrated that CD133+ cells more resistant to radiation and standard chemotherapy than CD133- cells. Although this, others investigations demonstrated that also CD133- cells can show the same characteristics of those positive for CD133+. Hence, some inconsistencies among published data on CD133 function can be ascribed to different causes questioning the main role as specific marker of cancer stem cells. In fact, many authors indicate that CD133 is expressed both in differentiated and undifferentiated cells, and CD133- cancer cells can also initiate tumours. Indeed, it is still a matter of debate whether CD133+ cells truly represent the ultimate tumourigenic population. However, the belief that CD133 may act as a universal marker of CSCs has been met with a high degree of controversy in the research community. In this review there is an attempt to highlight: i) the role and function of CD133, with an overview on the current stage of knowledge about this molecule, ii) the difficulty often encountered in its identification iii) the utility of CD133 expression as a prognostic marker.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-581
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Journal of Translational Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Cancer stem cells
  • Circulating tumor cells
  • Epigenetic regulation
  • Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
  • Glycosylation
  • Prominin-1 (CD133)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Cancer Research
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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