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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jan 25;108(4):1397-402. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018898108. Epub 2011 Jan 10.

Inducible formation of breast cancer stem cells and their dynamic equilibrium with non-stem cancer cells via IL6 secretion.

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Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Tumors are often heterogeneous, being composed of multiple cell types with different phenotypic and molecular properties. Cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) are a highly tumorigenic cell type found in developmentally diverse tumors or cancer cell lines, and they are often resistant to standard chemotherapeutic drugs. The origins of CSCs and their relationships to nonstem cancer cells (NSCCs) are poorly understood. In an inducible breast oncogenesis model, CSCs are generated from nontransformed cells at a specific time during the transformation process, but CSC formation is not required for transformation. MicroRNA profiles indicate that CSCs and NSCCs are related, but different cell types arising from a common nontransformed population. Interestingly, medium from the transformed population stimulates NSCCs to become CSCs, and conversion of NSCCs to CSCs occurs in mouse xenografts. Furthermore, IL6 is sufficient to convert NSCCs to CSCs in genetically different breast cell lines, human breast tumors, and a prostate cell line. Thus, breast and prostate CSCs and NSCCs do not represent distinct epigenetic states, and these CSCs do not behave as or arise from classic stem cells. Instead, tumor heterogeneity involves a dynamic equilibrium between CSCs and NSCCs mediated by IL6 and activation of the inflammatory feedback loop required for oncogenesis. This dynamic equilibrium provides an additional rationale for combining conventional chemotherapy with metformin, which selectively inhibits CSCs.

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