Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, Vol.527, No.4, 1014-1020, 2020
c-KIT regulates stability of cancer stemness in CD44-positive colorectal cancer cells
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are subpopulations of cancer cells with high self-renewal potential that are involved in tumor progression and recurrence. It has been postulated that CSCs and non-stem cancer cells are inter-convertible. However, precise mechanisms for the plasticity and stability of cancer stemness remain elusive. Here, we demonstrate that CD44-positive colorectal CSC fractions contain two types of cancer cells: "CD44-stable" cells, in which CD44 expression is stably sustained, and "CD44trasnsient" cells, which are rapidly converted to CD44-negative cells. CD44-stable cells expressed higher levels of c-KIT tyrosine kinase than CD44-transient cells. c-KIT knockdown by siRNAs converted the CD44-positive cells to CD44-negative cells, which expressed lower levels of stem cell markers such as ASCL2 and EPCAM. In the CD44-positive cells, c-KIT phosphorylation level was very low whereas stem cell factor, a c-KIT ligand, elevated c-KIT phosphorylation without affecting stem cell marker expression. CRISPR-Cas9-mediated knockout of the c-KIT gene in CD44 stable cells attenuated the CSC properties including expression of CD44 and other stem cell markers, clonogenicity and in vivo tumorigenic potential in a mouse xenograft model. These observations suggest that the colorectal CSC fractions contain cancer cells with differential plasticity, which is determined by c-KIT. (C) 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.