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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Feb 14;109(7):2358-63. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1120733109. Epub 2012 Jan 27.

Human ovarian cancer stem/progenitor cells are stimulated by doxorubicin but inhibited by Mullerian inhibiting substance.

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  • 1Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories, Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Women with late-stage ovarian cancer usually develop chemotherapeutic-resistant recurrence. It has been theorized that a rare cancer stem cell, which is responsible for the growth and maintenance of the tumor, is also resistant to conventional chemotherapeutics. We have isolated from multiple ovarian cancer cell lines an ovarian cancer stem cell-enriched population marked by CD44, CD24, and Epcam (3+) and by negative selection for Ecadherin (Ecad-) that comprises less than 1% of cancer cells and has increased colony formation and shorter tumor-free intervals in vivo after limiting dilution. Surprisingly, these cells are not only resistant to chemotherapeutics such as doxorubicin, but also are stimulated by it, as evidenced by the significantly increased number of colonies in treated 3+Ecad- cells. Similarly, proliferation of the 3+Ecad- cells in monolayer increased with treatment, by either doxorubicin or cisplatin, compared with the unseparated or cancer stem cell-depleted 3-Ecad+ cells. However, these cells are sensitive to Mullerian inhibiting substance (MIS), which decreased colony formation. MIS inhibits ovarian cancer cells by inducing G1 arrest of the 3+Ecad- subpopulation through the induction of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors. 3+Ecad- cells selectively expressed LIN28, which colocalized by immunofluorescence with the 3+ cancer stem cell markers in the human ovarian carcinoma cell line, OVCAR-5, and is also highly expressed in transgenic murine models of ovarian cancer and in other human ovarian cancer cell lines. These results suggest that chemotherapeutics may be stimulative to cancer stem cells and that selective inhibition of these cells by treating with MIS or targeting LIN28 should be considered in the development of therapeutics.

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