Cancer stem-like cell characteristics induced by EB virus-encoded LMP1 contribute to radioresistance in nasopharyngeal carcinoma by suppressing the p53-mediated apoptosis pathway

Chang-Fu Yang, Li-Xia Peng, Tie-Jun Huang, Guang-Da Yang, Qiao-Qiao Chu, Ying-Ying Liang, Xue Cao, Ping Xie, Li-Sheng Zheng, Hong-Bing Huang, Mao-De Cai, Jia-Ling Huang, Ran-Yi Liu, Zhen-Yu Zhu, Chao-Nan Qian, Bi-Jun Huang
Cancer Letters 2014 March 28, 344 (2): 260-71
Emerging evidence confirms that cancer stem cells (CSCs) are responsible for the chemoradioresistance of malignancies. EBV-encoded latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1) is associated with tumor relapse and poor prognosis of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). However, whether LMP1 induces the development of CSCs and the mechanism by which this rare cell subpopulation leads to radioresistance in NPC remain unclear. In the present study, LMP1-transformed NPC cells showed significant radioresistance compared to the empty vector control. We found that LMP1 up-regulated the expression of several stemness-related genes, increased the cell number of side population (SP) by flow cytometry analysis, enhanced the self-renewal properties of the cells in a spherical culture and enhanced the in vivo tumor initiation ability. We also found that LMP1 positively regulated the expression of the CSC marker CD44. The CD44(+/High) subpopulation of the LMP1-transformed NPC cells displayed more significant CSC characteristics than the CD44(-/Low) subpopulation of the LMP1-transformed NPC cells; these characteristics included the upregulation of stemness-related genes, in vitro self-renewal and in vivo tumor initiation ability. Importantly, the CD44(+/High) subpopulation displayed more radioresistance than the CD44(-/Low) subpopulation. Our results also demonstrated that phosphorylation of the DNA damage response (DDR) proteins, ATM, Chk1, Chk2 and p53, was inactivated in the LMP1-induced CD44(+/High) cells in response to DNA damage, and this was accompanied by a downregulation of the p53-targeted proapoptotic genes, which suggested that the inactivation of the p53-mediated apoptosis pathway was responsible for the radioresistance in the CD44(+/High) cells. Taken together, we found that LMP1 induced an increase in CSC-like CD44(+/High) cells, and we determined the molecular mechanism underlying the radioresistance of the LMP1-activated CSCs, highlighting the need of CSC-targeted radiotherapy in EBV-positive NPC.

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