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PLoS One. 2013 Sep 18;8(9):e74538. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074538. eCollection 2013.

Drug screening identifies niclosamide as an inhibitor of breast cancer stem-like cells.

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  • 1Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan (R.O.C.) ; Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Tri-Service General Hospital, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan (R.O.C.) ; Laboratory of Epigenetics and Cancer Stem Cells, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan (R.O.C.).


The primary cause of death from breast cancer is the progressive growth of tumors and resistance to conventional therapies. It is currently believed that recurrent cancer is repopulated according to a recently proposed cancer stem cell hypothesis. New therapeutic strategies that specifically target cancer stem-like cells may represent a new avenue of cancer therapy. We aimed to discover novel compounds that target breast cancer stem-like cells. We used a dye-exclusion method to isolate side population (SP) cancer cells and, subsequently, subjected these SP cells to a sphere formation assay to generate SP spheres (SPS) from breast cancer cell lines. Surface markers, stemness genes, and tumorigenicity were used to test stem properties. We performed a high-throughput drug screening using these SPS. The effects of candidate compounds were assessed in vitro and in vivo. We successfully generated breast cancer SPS with stem-like properties. These SPS were enriched for CD44(high) (2.8-fold) and CD24(low) (4-fold) cells. OCT4 and ABCG2 were overexpressed in SPS. Moreover, SPS grew tumors at a density of 10(3), whereas an equivalent number of parental cells did not initiate tumor formation. A clinically approved drug, niclosamide, was identified from the LOPAC chemical library of 1,258 compounds. Niclosamide downregulated stem pathways, inhibited the formation of spheroids, and induced apoptosis in breast cancer SPS. Animal studies also confirmed this therapeutic effect. The results of this proof-of-principle study may facilitate the development of new breast cancer therapies in the near future. The extension of niclosamide clinical trials is warranted.

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