Identification and characterization of cancer stem cells from head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines

Valentina Pozzi, Davide Sartini, Romina Rocchetti, Andrea Santarelli, Corrado Rubini, Stefano Morganti, Rachela Giuliante, Stefania Calabrese, Giulia Di Ruscio, Fiorenza Orlando, Mauro Provinciali, Franca Saccucci, Lorenzo Lo Muzio, Monica Emanuelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Aims: Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) ranks sixth worldwide for tumor-related mortality. A subpopulation of tumor cells, termed cancer stem cells (CSCs), has the ability to support cancer growth. Therefore, profiling CSC-enriched populations could be a reliable tool to study cancer biology. Methods: We performed phenotypic characterization of 7 HNSCC cell lines and evaluated the presence of CSCs. CSCs from Hep-2 cell line and HNSCC primary cultures were enriched through sphere formation and sphere-forming cells have been characterized both in vitro and in vivo. In addition, we investigated the expression levels of Nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (NNMT), an enzyme overexpressed in several malignancies. Results: CSC markers were markedly expressed in Hep-2 cell line, which was found to be highly tumorigenic. CSC-enriched populations displayed increased expression of CSC markers and a strong capability to form tumors in vivo. We also found an overexpression of CSC markers in tumor formed by CSC-enriched populations. Interestingly, NNMT levels were significantly higher in CSC-enriched populations compared with parental cells. Conclusion: Our study provides an useful procedure for CSC identification and enrichment in HNSCC. Moreover, results obtained seem to suggest that CSCs may represent a promising target for an anticancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)784-798
Number of pages15
JournalCellular Physiology and Biochemistry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Cancer stem cells
  • Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
  • Nicotinamide N-Methyltransferase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Medicine(all)


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