Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for ~85% of all lung cancer. While recent research has shown that cancer stem cells (CSC) exhibit radioresistant and chemoresistant properties, current cancer therapy targets the bulk of the tumor burden without accounting for the CSC and the contribution of the tumor microenvironment. CSC interaction with the stroma enhances NSCLC survival, thus limiting the efficacy of treatment. The aim of this study was to elucidate the role of CSC and the microenvironment in conferring radio- or chemoresistance in an in vitro tumor model for NSCLC. The novel in vitro three-dimensional (3D) NSCLC model of color-coded tumor tissue analogs (TTA) that we have developed is comprised of human lung adenocarcinoma cells, fibroblasts, endothelial cells and NSCLC cancer stem cells maintained in low oxygen conditions (5% O2) to recapitulate the physiologic conditions in tumors. Using this model, we demonstrate that a single 5 Gy radiation dose does not inhibit growth of TTA containing CSC and results in elevated expression of cytokines (TGF-α, RANTES, ENA-78) and factors (vimentin, MMP and TIMP), indicative of an invasive and aggressive phenotype. However, combined treatment of single dose or fractionated doses with cisplatin was found to either attenuate or decrease the proliferative effect that radiation exposure alone had on TTA containing CSC maintained in hypoxic conditions. In summary, we utilized a 3D NSCLC model, which had characteristics of the tumor microenvironment and tumor cell heterogeneity, to elucidate the multifactorial nature of radioresistance in tumors.
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Vol. 185 • No. 2