Fate mapping of human glioblastoma reveals an invariant stem cell hierarchy

29 Sep 2017

Human glioblastomas (GBMs) harbour a subpopulation of glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs) that drive tumourigenesis. However, the origin of intra-tumoural functional heterogeneity between GBM cells remains poorly understood. Here we study the clonal evolution of barcoded GBM cells in an unbiased way following serial xenotransplantation to define their individual fate behaviours. Independent of an evolving mutational signature, we show that the growth of GBM clones in vivo is consistent with a remarkably neutral process involving a conserved proliferative hierarchy rooted in GSCs. In this model, slow-cycling stem-like cells give rise to a more rapidly cycling progenitor population with extensive self-maintenance capacity, that in turn generates non-proliferative cells. We also identify rare “outlier” clones that deviate from these dynamics, and further show that chemotherapy facilitates the expansion of pre-existing drug-resistant GSCs. Finally, we show that functionally distinct GSCs can be separately targeted using epigenetic compounds, suggesting new avenues for GBM targeted therapy.