We previously reported that single cells from a human colorectal cancer (CRC) cell line (HCA-7) formed either hollow single-layered polarized cysts or solid spiky masses when plated within type-I collagen in 3D. To begin in-depth analyses into whether clonal cysts and spiky masses possessed divergent malignant properties, individual colonies of each morphology were isolated and expanded. The lines thus derived faithfully retained the parental cystic and spiky morphologies and were termed CC (cystic) and SC (spiky), respectively. Although both CC and SC expressed EGF receptor (EGFR), cetuximab strongly inhibited growth of CC, whereas SC was resistant to growth inhibition and this was coupled to increased tyrosine phosphorylation of MET and RON. Addition of the dual MET/RON tyrosine kinase inhibitor, crizotinib, to cetuximab in SC restored cetuximab sensitivity. To characterize genome-wide divergence between CC and SC, we performed comprehensive genomic and transcriptomic analysis of CC and SC in 3D. One of the most upregulated genes in CC was the tumor suppressor 15-PGDH/HPGD and the most upregulated gene in SC was versican (VCAN) in 3D and xenografts. Analysis of a human CRC tissue microarray showed that epithelial, but not stromal, VCAN staining strongly correlated with reduced survival, and combined epithelial VCAN and absent HPGD staining portended a poorer prognosis. Thus, with this 3D system, we have identified a new mode of cetuximab resistance and a potential prognostic marker in CRC. As such, this represents a potentially powerful system to identify additional therapeutic sensitivities and disease-relevant genes for CRC.

Citation Format: Bhuminder Singh, Cunxi Li, Ramona Graves-Deal, Haiting Ma, Alina Starchenko, William H. Fry, Yuanyuan Lu, Yang Wang, Galina Bogatcheva, Mohseen P. Khan, Ginger L. Milne, Shilin Zhao, Gregory D. Ayers, Nenggan Li, Mary K. Washington, Timothy J. Yeatman, Oliver G. McDonald, Qi Liu, Robert J. Coffey. A 3D culture system identifies a new mode of cetuximab resistance and disease-relevant genes in colorectal cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 5013. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-5013