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Transl Oncol. 2013 Apr;6(2):180-6. Epub 2013 Apr 1.

Down-regulation of miR-21 Induces Differentiation of Chemoresistant Colon Cancer Cells and Enhances Susceptibility to Therapeutic Regimens.

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John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI ; Department of Internal Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.


MicroRNAs are endogenous posttranscriptional modulators that negatively control the expression of their target genes and play an important role in the development and progression of many malignancies, including colorectal carcinoma. In particular, expression of microRNA-21 (miR-21) is greatly increased in chemotherapy-resistant (CR) colon cancer cells that are enriched in undifferentiated cancer stem/stem-like cells (CSCs/CSLCs). We hypothesize that miR-21 plays a critical role in regulating differentiation of CR colon cancer cells. Indeed, we observed that downregulation of miR-21 in CR colon cancer cells (HCT-116 or HT-29) by antisense miR-21 induced differentiation, as evidenced by marked increases in cytokeratin-20 (CK-20) expression and alkaline phosphatase activity. These changes were accompanied by a significant reduction in the expression of colon CSC/CSLC marker CD44, colonosphere formation, and T-cell factor/lymphoid enhancer factor (TCF/LEF) activity but increased the expression of proapoptotic programmed cell death 4 gene. Induction of differentiation greatly increased sensitivity of CR colon cancer cells to the growth inhibitory properties of all three regimens tested: 5-fluorouracil + oxaliplatin (FUOX), difluorinated curcumin (CDF), and the combination of CDF and FUOX. However, the magnitude of inhibition of growth by either CDF (75%) alone or CDF + FUOX (80%) was much higher than that observed with only FUOX (40%). Growth inhibition by CDF and CDF + FUOX in differentiating CR colon cancer cells was associated with a 98% to 99% reduction in the expression of CD44 and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). However, down-regulation of CK-20 in CR colon cancer cells produced no significant change in cellular growth in the absence or presence of FUOX, when compared with the corresponding controls. The current observation suggests that CDF and CDF + FUOX are highly effective in inhibiting growth and reducing colon CSCs/CSLCs in anti-miR-21-induced differentiating CR colon cancer cells and supports our contention that differentiation enhances susceptibility of CR cancer cells to conventional and nonconventional therapeutic regimen.

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