Snail1 induces epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and tumor initiating stem cell characteristics
Department of Pediatrics and Pharmacology, The Pennsylvania State University, College of Medicine, Penn State Children's Hospital, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA
BMC Cancer 2011, 11:396 doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-396Published: 19 September 2011
Tumor initiating stem-like cells (TISCs) are a subset of neoplastic cells that possess distinct survival mechanisms and self-renewal characteristics crucial for tumor maintenance and propagation. The induction of epithelial-mesenchymal-transition (EMT) by TGFβ has been recently linked to the acquisition of TISC characteristics in breast cancer. In HCC, a TISC and EMT phenotype correlates with a worse prognosis. In this work, our aim is to elucidate the underlying mechanism by which cells acquire tumor initiating characteristics after EMT.
Gene and protein expression assays and Nanog-promoter luciferase reporter were utilized in epithelial and mesenchymal phenotype liver cancer cell lines. EMT was analyzed with migration/invasion assays. TISC characteristics were analyzed with tumor-sphere self-renewal and chemotherapy resistance assays. In vivo tumor assay was performed to investigate the role of Snail1 in tumor initiation.
TGFβ induced EMT in epithelial cells through the up-regulation of Snail1 in Smad-dependent signaling. Mesenchymal liver cancer post-EMT demonstrates TISC characteristics such as tumor-sphere formation but are not resistant to cytotoxic therapy. The inhibition of Snail1 in mesenchymal cells results in decreased Nanog promoter luciferase activity and loss of self-renewal characteristics in vitro. These changes confirm the direct role of Snail1 in some TISC traits. In vivo, the down-regulation of Snail1 reduced tumor growth but was not sufficient to eliminate tumor initiation. In summary, TGFβ induces EMT and TISC characteristics through Snail1 and Nanog up-regulation. In mesenchymal cells post-EMT, Snail1 directly regulates Nanog expression, and loss of Snail1 regulates tumor growth without affecting tumor initiation.