Sox2, a stemness gene, regulates tumor-initiating and drug-resistant properties in CD133-positive glioblastoma stem cells

Wen-Shin Song, Yi-Ping Yang, Chi-Shuan Huang, Kai-Hsi Lu, Wei-Hsiu Liu, Wai-Wah Wu, Yi-Yen Lee, Wen-Liang Lo, Shou-Dong Lee, Yi-Wei Chen, Pin-I Huang, Ming-Teh Chen
Journal of the Chinese Medical Association: JCMA 2016, 79 (10): 538-45

BACKGROUND: Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most lethal type of adult brain cancer and performs outrageous growth and resistance regardless of adjuvant chemotherapies, eventually contributing to tumor recurrence and poor outcomes. Considering the common heterogeneity of cancer cells, the imbalanced regulatory mechanism could be switched on/off and contribute to drug resistance. Moreover, the subpopulation of GBM cells was recently discovered to share similar phenotypes with neural stem cells. These cancer stem cells (CSCs) promote the potency of tumor initiation. As a result, targeting of glioma stem cells has become the dominant way of improving the therapeutic outcome against GBM and extending the life span of patients. Among the biomarkers of CSCs, CD-133 (prominin-1) has been known to effectively isolate CSCs from cancer population, including GBM; however, the underlying mechanism of how stemness genes manipulate CSC-associated phenotypes, such as tumor initiation and relapse, is still unclear.

METHODS: Tumorigenicity, drug resistance and embryonic stem cell markers were examined in primary CD133-positive (CD133(+)) GBM cells and CD133(+) subpopulation. Stemness signature of CD133(+) GBM cells was identified using microarray analysis. Stem cell potency, tumorigenicity and drug resistance were also tested in differential expression of SOX2 in GBM cells.

RESULTS: In this study, high tumorigenic and drug resistance was noticed in primary CD-133(+) GBM cells; meanwhile, plenty of embryonic stem cell markers were also elevated in the CD-133+ subpopulation. Using microarray analysis, we identified SOX2 as the most enriched gene among the stemness signature in CD133(+) GBM cells. Overexpression of SOX2 consistently enhanced the stem cell potency in the GBM cell lines, whereas knockdown of SOX2 dramatically withdrew CD133 expression in CD133(+) GBM cells. Additionally, we silenced SOX2 expression using RNAi system, which abrogated the ability of tumor initiation as well as drug resistance of CD133(+) GBM cells, suggesting that SOX2 plays a crucial role in regulating tumorigenicity in CD133(+) GBM cells.

CONCLUSION: SOX2 plays a crucial role in regulating tumorigenicity in CD133(+) GBM cells. Our results not only revealed the genetic plasticity contributing to drug resistance and stemness but also demonstrated the dominant role of SOX2 in maintenance of GBM CSCs, which may provide a novel therapeutic target to overcome the conundrum of poor survival of brain cancers.

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