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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 May 21;110(21):8644-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1221478110. Epub 2013 May 6.

Mesenchymal glioma stem cells are maintained by activated glycolytic metabolism involving aldehyde dehydrogenase 1A3.

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  • 1Department of Neurological Surgery, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Tumor heterogeneity of high-grade glioma (HGG) is recognized by four clinically relevant subtypes based on core gene signatures. However, molecular signaling in glioma stem cells (GSCs) in individual HGG subtypes is poorly characterized. Here we identified and characterized two mutually exclusive GSC subtypes with distinct dysregulated signaling pathways. Analysis of mRNA profiles distinguished proneural (PN) from mesenchymal (Mes) GSCs and revealed a pronounced correlation with the corresponding PN or Mes HGGs. Mes GSCs displayed more aggressive phenotypes in vitro and as intracranial xenografts in mice. Further, Mes GSCs were markedly resistant to radiation compared with PN GSCs. The glycolytic pathway, comprising aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) family genes and in particular ALDH1A3, were enriched in Mes GSCs. Glycolytic activity and ALDH activity were significantly elevated in Mes GSCs but not in PN GSCs. Expression of ALDH1A3 was also increased in clinical HGG compared with low-grade glioma or normal brain tissue. Moreover, inhibition of ALDH1A3 attenuated the growth of Mes but not PN GSCs. Last, radiation treatment of PN GSCs up-regulated Mes-associated markers and down-regulated PN-associated markers, whereas inhibition of ALDH1A3 attenuated an irradiation-induced gain of Mes identity in PN GSCs. Taken together, our data suggest that two subtypes of GSCs, harboring distinct metabolic signaling pathways, represent intertumoral glioma heterogeneity and highlight previously unidentified roles of ALDH1A3-associated signaling that promotes aberrant proliferation of Mes HGGs and GSCs. Inhibition of ALDH1A3-mediated pathways therefore might provide a promising therapeutic approach for a subset of HGGs with the Mes signature.


cancer stem cell; epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; glioblastoma; glioblastoma multiforme; proneural-to-mesenchymal transition

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