Most assays to detect circulating tumor cells (CTCs) rely on EpCAM expression on tumor cells. Recently, our group reported that in contrast to other molecular breast cancer subtypes, "normal-like" cell lines lack EpCAM expression and are thus missed when CTCs are captured with EpCAM-based technology [J Natl Cancer Inst 101(1):61-66, 2009]. Here, the use of CD146 is introduced to detect EpCAM-negative CTCs, thereby improving CTC detection. CD146 and EpCAM expression were assessed in our panel of 41 breast cancer cell lines. Cells from 14 cell lines, 9 of which normal-like, were spiked into healthy donor blood. Using CellSearch™ technology, 7.5 ml whole blood was enriched for CTCs by adding ferrofluids loaded with antibodies against EpCAM and/or CD146 followed by staining for Cytokeratin and DAPI. Hematopoietic cells and circulating endothelial cells (CECs) were counterstained with CD45 and CD34, respectively. A similar approach was applied for blood samples of 20 advanced breast cancer patients. Eight of 9 normal-like breast cancer cell lines lacked EpCAM expression but did express CD146. Five of these 8 could be adequately recovered by anti-CD146 ferrofluids. Of 20 advanced breast cancer patients whose CTCs were enumerated with anti-EpCAM and anti-CD146 ferrofluids, 9 had CD146+ CTCs. Cells from breast cancer cell lines that lack EpCAM expression frequently express CD146 and can be recovered by anti-CD146 ferrofluids. CD146+ CTCs are present in the peripheral blood of breast cancer patients with advanced disease. Combined use of anti-CD146 and anti-EpCAM is likely to improve CTC detection in breast cancer patients.

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Breast Cancer Research and Treatment
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Mostert, B., Kraan, J., Bolt-de Vries, J., van der Spoel, P., Sieuwerts, A., Schutte, M., … Sleijfer, S. (2011). Detection of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer may improve through enrichment with anti-CD146. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 127(1), 33–41. doi:10.1007/s10549-010-0879-y