CD44v6 Defines a New Population of Circulating Tumor Cells Not Expressing EpCAM

In the present work, we describe (for the first time) the use of the transmembrane protein, CD44v6, to detect CTCs from blood samples of several patients with colorectal or breast cancer. We used CD44v6 antibodies to demonstrate that live CTCs can be specifically purified from CRC patient blood samples via magnetic bead- or FACS-based isolation techniques. Finally, we demonstrated that CD44v6-positive CTCs rarely expressed EpCam, which is currently the gold standard to enumerate CTCs, suggesting the need to use a combination of markers for a more comprehensive view of CTC heterogeneity.


Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are promising diagnostic and prognostic tools for clinical use. In several cancers, including colorectal and breast, the CTC load has been associated with a therapeutic response as well as progression-free and overall survival. However, counting and isolating CTCs remains sub-optimal because they are currently largely identified by epithelial markers such as EpCAM. New, complementary CTC surface markers are therefore urgently needed. We previously demonstrated that a splice variant of CD44, CD44 variable alternative exon 6 (CD44v6), is highly and specifically expressed by CTC cell lines derived from blood samples in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients. Two different approaches—immune detection coupled with magnetic beads and fluorescence-activated cell sorting—were optimized to purify CTCs from patient blood samples based on high expressions of CD44v6. We revealed the potential of the CD44v6 as a complementary marker to EpCAM to detect and purify CTCs in colorectal cancer blood samples. Furthermore, this marker is not restricted to colorectal cancer since CD44v6 is also expressed on CTCs from breast cancer patients. Overall, these results strongly suggest that CD44v6 could be useful to enumerate and purify CTCs from cancers of different origins, paving the way to more efficacious combined markers that encompass CTC heterogeneity.