Co-detection of ALDH1A1, ABCG2, ALCAM and CD133 in three A549 subpopulations at the single cell level by one-step digital RT-PCR†
Cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) displaying the properties of normal stem cells have become the main culprit associated with cancer transportation and recurrence. As of now, various CSC functions and marker genes have been identified due to the heterogeneity of cancer, such as aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), the second member of the ABC transporter G-subfamily (ABCG2), activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule (ALCAM) and CD133. To investigate these markers, most conventional approaches are bulk-based strategies, which may veil the disparity of single cells’ gene expression. In this study, one-step digital RT-PCR at the single cell level was developed to co-determine the expression of ALDH1A1, ABCG2, ALCAM and CD133 genes in A549 cancer stem cells that perform high ALDH activities (ALDH+ A549 cells), as well as in ALDH− A549 cells and A549 cells, with 36, 20 and 20 cell samples each. The results demonstrated that, when compared to single ALDH− or A549 cells, the majority of single ALDH+ A549 cells displayed a 1.5- and 2.0-fold increase in the gene expression of ALDH1A1 and ALCAM (P < 0.001), respectively. However, for ABCG2 and CD133, there was no significant difference (P > 0.05), which means that they are not appropriate as co-indicated markers to identify ALDH+ A549 cells. Conclusively, as a single cell level approach, one-step digital RT-PCR has potential in exploring efficient co-detection markers for the classification and identification of CSCs.