Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular, cellular and physiological characterization of the cancer cachexia-inducing C26 colon carcinoma in mouse

Paola Aulino1, Emanuele Berardi1, Veronica M Cardillo1, Emanuele Rizzuto1, Barbara Perniconi1, Carla Ramina1, Fabrizio Padula1, Enrico P Spugnini2, Alfonso Baldi3, Fabio Faiola4, Sergio Adamo1* and Dario Coletti1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Histology and Medical Embryology, Sapienza University of Rome, Via Scarpa 16, 00161 Rome, Italy and Interuniversity Institute of Myology

2 SAFU Department, Regina Elena Cancer Institute, Via delle Messi d'Oro 156, 00158 Rome, Italy

3 Department Biochemistry, Section of Pathology, Second University of Naples, Via L. Armanni 5, 80138 Naples, Italy

4 DVM Veterinarian chief, Health Status and Animal Welfare, Sapienza University of Rome, Via Scarpa 16, 00161 Rome, Italy

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:363  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-363

Published: 8 July 2010



The majority of cancer patients experience dramatic weight loss, due to cachexia and consisting of skeletal muscle and fat tissue wasting. Cachexia is a negative prognostic factor, interferes with therapy and worsens the patients' quality of life by affecting muscle function. Mice bearing ectopically-implanted C26 colon carcinoma are widely used as an experimental model of cancer cachexia. As part of the search for novel clinical and basic research applications for this experimental model, we characterized novel cellular and molecular features of C26-bearing mice.


A fragment of C26 tumor was subcutaneously grafted in isogenic BALB/c mice. The mass growth and proliferation rate of the tumor were analyzed. Histological and cytofluorometric analyses were used to assess cell death, ploidy and differentiation of the tumor cells. The main features of skeletal muscle atrophy, which were highlighted by immunohistochemical and electron microscopy analyses, correlated with biochemical alterations. Muscle force and resistance to fatigue were measured and analyzed as major functional deficits of the cachectic musculature.


We found that the C26 tumor, ectopically implanted in mice, is an undifferentiated carcinoma, which should be referred to as such and not as adenocarcinoma, a common misconception. The C26 tumor displays aneuploidy and histological features typical of transformed cells, incorporates BrdU and induces severe weight loss in the host, which is largely caused by muscle wasting. The latter appears to be due to proteasome-mediated protein degradation, which disrupts the sarcomeric structure and muscle fiber-extracellular matrix interactions. A pivotal functional deficit of cachectic muscle consists in increased fatigability, while the reported loss of tetanic force is not statistically significant following normalization for decreased muscle fiber size.


We conclude, on the basis of the definition of cachexia, that ectopically-implanted C26 carcinoma represents a well standardized experimental model for research on cancer cachexia. We wish to point out that scientists using the C26 model to study cancer and those using the same model to study cachexia may be unaware of each other's works because they use different keywords; we present strategies to eliminate this gap and discuss the benefits of such an exchange of knowledge.