Functional Isolation of Tumor-Initiating Cells using Microfluidic-Based Migration Identifies Phosphatidylserine Decarboxylase as a Key Regulator

Yu Chih Chen, Brock Humphries, Riley Brien, Anne E. Gibbons, Yu Ting Chen, Tonela Qyli, Henry R. Haley, Matthew E. Pirone, Benjamin Chiang, Annie Xiao, Yu Heng Cheng, Yi Luan, Zhixiong Zhang, Jason Cong, Kathryn E. Luker, Gary D. Luker, Euisik Yoon

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Isolation of tumor-initiating cells currently relies on markers that do not reflect essential biologic functions of these cells. We proposed to overcome this limitation by isolating tumor-initiating cells based on enhanced migration, a function tightly linked to tumor-initiating potential through epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). We developed a high-throughput microfluidic migration platform with automated cell tracking software and facile recovery of cells for downstream functional and genetic analyses. Using this device, we isolated a small subpopulation of migratory cells with significantly greater tumor formation and metastasis in mouse models. Whole transcriptome sequencing of migratory versus non-migratory cells from two metastatic breast cancer cell lines revealed a unique set of genes as key regulators of tumor-initiating cells. We focused on phosphatidylserine decarboxylase (PISD), a gene downregulated by 8-fold in migratory cells. Breast cancer cells overexpressing PISD exhibited reduced tumor-initiating potential in a high-throughput microfluidic mammosphere device and mouse xenograft model. PISD regulated multiple aspects of mitochondria, highlighting mitochondrial functions as therapeutic targets against cancer stem cells. This research establishes not only a novel microfluidic technology for functional isolation of tumor-initiating cells regardless of cancer type, but also a new approach to identify essential regulators of these cells as targets for drug development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number244
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by grants from the Department of Defense (W81XWH-12-1-0325) and National Institute of Health (1R21CA17585701, 1R21CA19501601A1, R01CA170198, R01CA196018, and R01CA195655). Y.-C. Chen acknowledges the support from Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery. We thank the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility and Flow Cytometry Core of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) for device fabrication and flow cytometry, respectively.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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