MiR-21 regulates epithelial-mesenchymal transition phenotype and hypoxia-inducible factor-1α expression in third-sphere forming breast cancer stem cell-like cells

Mingli Han, Yimeng Wang, Manran Liu, Xiaokai Bi, Junjie Bao, Ni Zeng, Zhikun Zhu, Zhiqiang Mo, Chengyi Wu, Xin Chen
Cancer Science 2012, 103 (6): 1058-64
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are predicted to be critical drivers of tumor progression due to their "stemness", but the molecular mechanism of CSCs in regulating metastasis remains to be elucidated. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α, and miR-21, all of which contribute to cell migration for metastasis, are interrelated with CSCs. In the present study, third-sphere forming (3-S) CSC-like cells, which showed elevated CSC surface markers (ALDH1(+) and CD44(+)/CD24(-/low)) and sphereforming capacity as well as migration and invasion capacities, were cultured and isolated from breast cancer MCF-7 parental cells, to evaluate the role of miR-21 in regulating the CSC-like cell biological features, especially EMT. EMT, which was assessed by overexpression of mesenchymal cell markers (N-cadherin, Vimentin, alpha-smooth muscle actin [α-SMA]) and suppression of epithelial cell marker (E-cadherin), was induced in 3-S CSC-like cells. Moreover, both of HIF-1α and miR-21 were upregulated in the CSC-like cells. Interestingly, antagonism of miR-21 by antagomir led to reversal of EMT, downexpression of HIF-1α, as well as suppression of invasion and migration, which indicates a key role of miR-21 involved in regulate CSC-associated features. In conclusion, we demonstrated that the formation of CSC-like cells undergoing process of EMT-like associated with overexpression of HIF-1α, both of which are regulated by miR-21.

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