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Stem Cells. 2011 Nov;29(11):1661-71. doi: 10.1002/stem.741.

MicroRNA-451 is involved in the self-renewal, tumorigenicity, and chemoresistance of colorectal cancer stem cells.

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Laboratory of Pharmacogenomics, Division of Oncology, Center for Applied Medical Research, CIMA, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain.


Many antitumor therapies affect rapidly dividing cells. However, tumor proliferation may be driven by cancer stem cells (CSCs), which divide slowly and are relatively resistant to cytotoxic drugs. Thus, many tumors may progress because CSCs are not sensitive to the treatment. In this work, we searched for target genes whose expression is involved in proliferation and chemoresistance of CSCs. Both of these processes could be controlled simultaneously by cell regulators such as microRNAs (miRNAs). Therefore, colonospheres with properties of CSCs were obtained from different colon carcinoma cells, and miRNA profiling was performed. The results showed that miR-451 was downregulated in colonspheres versus parental cells. Surprisingly, expression of miR-451 caused a decrease in self-renewal, tumorigenicity, and chemoresistance to irinotecan of colonspheres. We identified cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) as an indirect miR-451 target gene involved in sphere growth. Our results indicate that miR-451 downregulation allows the expression of the direct target gene macrophage migration inhibitory factor, involved in the expression of COX-2. In turn, COX-2 allows Wnt activation, which is essential for CSC growth. Furthermore, miR-451 restoration decreases expression of the ATP-binding cassette drug transporter ABCB1 and results in irinotecan sensitization. These findings correlate well with the lower expression of miR-451 observed in patients who did not respond to irinotecan-based first-line therapy compared with patients who did. Our data suggest that miR-451 is a novel candidate to circumvent recurrence and drug resistance in colorectal cancer and could be used as a marker to predict response to irinotecan in patients with colon carcinoma.

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