A concise review on the current understanding of pancreatic cancer stem cells

Arokia Priyanka Vaz, Moorthy P Ponnusamy, Parthasarathy Seshacharyulu, Surinder K Batra
Journal of Cancer Stem Cell Research 2014, 2
Several evidences suggest that a small population of cells known as cancer stem cells (CSCs) or tumor initiating stemlike cells within a tumor is capable of tumor initiation, maintenance and propagation. Recent publications have supported the existence of CSCs in pancreatic tumors. The pancreatic stem/progenitor cells, which express self-renewal markers, are identified to be present in the peribiliary gland. Based on the CSC hypothesis, mutations can lead to the transformation of stem/progenitor cells or differentiated cells into CSCs. The pancreatic CSCs express a wide array of markers such as CD44, CD24, ESA, CD133, c-MET, CXCR4, PD2/Paf1 and ALDH1. The CSCs are isolated based on surface markers or by other methods such as ALDEFLOUR assay or Hoechst 33342 dye exclusion assay. The isolated cells are further characterized by in vitro and in vivo tumorigenic assays. The most important characteristics of CSCs are its ability to self-renew and impart drug resistance towards chemotherapy. Moreover, these distinct cells display alteration of signaling pathways pertaining to CSCs such as Notch, Wnt and Shh to maintain the self-renewal process. Failure of cancer treatment could be attributed to the therapy resistance exhibited by the CSCs. Metastasis and drug resistance in pancreatic cancer is associated with epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). Furthermore, mucins, the high molecular weight proteins are found to be associated with pancreatic CSCs and EMT. Understanding the underlying molecular pathways that aid in the metastatic and drug resistant nature of these distinct cells will aid in targeting these cells. Overall, this review focuses on the various aspects of pancreatic adult/stem progenitors, CSC hypothesis, its markers, pathways, niche, EMT and novel therapeutic drugs used for the elimination of pancreatic CSCs.

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