Open Access Open Badges Research article

Expression of LGR-5, MSI-1 and DCAMKL-1, putative stem cell markers, in the early phases of 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-induced rat colon carcinogenesis: correlation with nuclear β-catenin

Angelo Pietro Femia, Piero Dolara, Maddalena Salvadori and Giovanna Caderni*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmacology, University of Florence, 6 Viale Pieraccini, 50139, Florence, Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2013, 13:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-48

Published: 1 February 2013



Colon cancer stem cells may drive carcinogenesis and account for chemotherapeutic failure. Although many markers for these cells have been proposed, there is no complete agreement regarding them, nor has their presence in the early phases of carcinogenesis been characterized in depth.


The expression of the putative markers LGR-5 (leucine-rich-repeat-containing G-protein-coupled receptor 5), MSI-1 (Musashi-1) and DCAMKL-1 (doublecortin and calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase-like-1) was studied in normal colon mucosa (NM), in the precancerous lesions Mucin Depleted Foci (MDF) and in macroscopic tumours (adenomas) of 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-treated rats. Co-localization between these markers and nuclear β-catenin (NBC), an attributed feature of cancer stem cells, was also determined. Moreover, since PGE2 could increase NBC, we tested whether short-term treatment with celecoxib, a COX-2 inhibitor (2 weeks, 250 ppm in the diet) could reduce the expression of these markers.


LGR-5 expression in NM was low (Labelling Index (LI): 0.22±0.03 (means±SE)) with positive cells located mainly at the base of the crypts. Compared to NM, LGR-5 was overexpressed in MDF and tumours (LI: 4.7±2.0 and 2.9±1.0 in MDF and tumours, respectively, P<0.01 compared to NM). DCAMKL-1 positive cells, distributed along the length of normal crypts, were reduced in MDF and tumours. Nuclear expression of MSI-1, located mainly at the base of normal crypts, was not observed in MDF or tumours. In both MDF and tumours, few cells co-expressed LGR-5 and NBC (LI: 1.0±0.3 and 0.4±0.2 in MDF and tumours, respectively). Notwithstanding the lower expression of DCAMKL-1 in tumours, the percentage of cells co-expressing DCAMKL-1 and NBC was higher than in NM (LI: 0.5±0.1 and 0.04±0.02 in tumours and NM, respectively). MSI-1 and NBC co-localization was not observed. Celecoxib did not reduce cells co-expressing LGR-5 and NBC.


Based on its prevalent localization at the base of normal crypts, as expected for stem cells, and on the overexpression in precancerous lesions and tumours, we support LGR-5, but not MSI-1 or DCAMKL-1, as putative neoplastic stem cell marker. In both MDF and tumours, we identified LGR-5-positive cells co-expressing NBC which could be a subpopulation with the highest stem cell features.

Stem cells; Colon carcinogenesis; Precancerous lesions