JOURNAL ARTICLE

CD44+ cancer stem-like cells in EBV-associated nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Samantha Wei-Man Lun, Siu Tim Cheung, Phyllis Fung Yi Cheung, Ka-Fai To, John Kong-Sang Woo, Kwong-Wai Choy, Chit Chow, Chartia Ching-Mei Cheung, Grace Tin-Yun Chung, Alice Suk-Hang Cheng, Chun-Wai Ko, Sai-Wah Tsao, Pierre Busson, Margaret Heung-Ling Ng, Kwok-Wai Lo
PloS One 2012, 7 (12): e52426
23285037
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a unique EBV-associated epithelial malignancy, showing highly invasive and metastatic phenotype. Despite increasing evidence demonstrating the critical role of cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) in the maintenance and progression of tumors in a variety of malignancies, the existence and properties of CSC in EBV-associated NPC are largely unknown. Our study aims to elucidate the presence and role of CSCs in the pathogenesis of this malignant disease. Sphere-forming cells were isolated from an EBV-positive NPC cell line C666-1 and its tumor-initiating properties were confirmed by in vitro and in vivo assays. In these spheroids, up-regulation of multiple stem cell markers were found. By flow cytometry, we demonstrated that both CD44 and SOX2 were overexpressed in a majority of sphere-forming C666-1 cells. The CD44+SOX2+ cells was detected in a minor population in EBV-positive xenografts and primary tumors and considered as potential CSC in NPC. Notably, the isolated CD44+ NPC cells were resistant to chemotherapeutic agents and with higher spheroid formation efficiency, showing CSC properties. On the other hand, microarray analysis has revealed a number of differentially expressed genes involved in transcription regulation (e.g. FOXN4, GLI1), immune response (CCR7, IL8) and transmembrane transport (e.g. ABCC3, ABCC11) in the spheroids. Among these genes, increased expression of CCR7 in CD44+ CSCs was confirmed in NPC xenografts and primary tumors. Importantly, blocking of CCR7 abolished the sphere-forming ability of C666-1 in vitro. Expression of CCR7 was associated with recurrent disease and distant metastasis. The current study defined the specific properties of a CSC subpopulation in EBV-associated NPC. Our findings provided new insights into developing effective therapies targeting on CSCs, thereby potentiating treatment efficacy for NPC patients.

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