Cancer Stem Cells: Controversial or Just Misunderstood?

James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Box 704, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.
Cell stem cell (Impact Factor: 22.15). 04/2009; 4(3):203-5. DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2009.02.003
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT While a broad range of expertise has recently come to bear on the intriguing topic of "cancer stem cells," the overall relevance of stem cells as they relate to cancer remains in dispute. In this commentary, underlying points of contention are described with the aim of defining focal points for discussion and future consideration.

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    ABSTRACT: The molecular determinants that render specific populations of normal cells susceptible to oncogenic reprogramming into self-renewing cancer stem cells are poorly understood. Here, we exploit T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) as a model to define the critical initiating events in this disease. First, thymocytes that are reprogrammed by the SCL and LMO1 oncogenic transcription factors into self-renewing pre-leukemic stem cells (pre-LSCs) remain non-malignant, as evidenced by their capacities to generate functional T cells. Second, we provide strong genetic evidence that SCL directly interacts with LMO1 to activate the transcription of a self-renewal program coordinated by LYL1. Moreover, LYL1 can substitute for SCL to reprogram thymocytes in concert with LMO1. In contrast, inhibition of E2A was not sufficient to substitute for SCL, indicating that thymocyte reprogramming requires transcription activation by SCL-LMO1. Third, only a specific subset of normal thymic cells, known as DN3 thymocytes, is susceptible to reprogramming. This is because physiological NOTCH1 signals are highest in DN3 cells compared to other thymocyte subsets. Consistent with this, overexpression of a ligand-independent hyperactive NOTCH1 allele in all immature thymocytes is sufficient to sensitize them to SCL-LMO1, thereby increasing the pool of self-renewing cells. Surprisingly, hyperactive NOTCH1 cannot reprogram thymocytes on its own, despite the fact that NOTCH1 is activated by gain of function mutations in more than 55% of T-ALL cases. Rather, elevating NOTCH1 triggers a parallel pathway involving Hes1 and Myc that dramatically enhances the activity of SCL-LMO1 We conclude that the acquisition of self-renewal and the genesis of pre-LSCs from thymocytes with a finite lifespan represent a critical first event in T-ALL. Finally, LYL1 and LMO1 or LMO2 are co-expressed in most human T-ALL samples, except the cortical T subtype. We therefore anticipate that the self-renewal network described here may be relevant to a majority of human T-ALL.
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    ABSTRACT: Notch receptors play an essential role in the regulation of central cellular processes during embryonic and postnatal development. The mammalian genome encodes for four Notch paralogs (Notch 1-4), which are activated by three Delta-like (Dll1/3/4) and two Serrate-like (Jagged1/2) ligands. Further, non-canonical Notch ligands such as epidermal growth factor like protein 7 (EGFL7) have been identified and serve mostly as antagonists of Notch signaling. The Notch pathway prevents neuronal differentiation in the central nervous system by driving neural stem cell maintenance and commitment of neural progenitor cells into the glial lineage. Notch is therefore often implicated in the development of brain tumors, as tumor cells share various characteristics with neural stem and progenitor cells. Notch receptors are overexpressed in gliomas and their oncogenicity has been confirmed by gain- and loss-of-function studies in vitro and in vivo. To this end, special attention is paid to the impact of Notch signaling on stem-like brain tumor-propagating cells as these cells contribute to growth, survival, invasion, and recurrence of brain tumors. Based on the outcome of ongoing studies in vivo, Notch-directed therapies such as γ-secretase inhibitors and blocking antibodies have entered and completed various clinical trials. This review summarizes the current knowledge on Notch signaling in brain tumor formation and therapy.
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    ABSTRACT: From a fertilised egg to a mature organism, cells divide and accumulate epigenetic information, which is faithfully passed on to daughter cells. DNA methylation consolidates the memory of the developmental history and, albeit very stable, it is not immutable and DNA methylation patterns can be deconstructed - a process that is essential to regain totipotency. Research into DNA methylation erasure gained momentum a few years ago with the discovery of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, an oxidation product of 5-methylcytosine. The role of this new epigenetic modification in DNA demethylation and other potential epigenetic roles are discussed here. But what are the mechanisms that regulate deposition of epigenetic modifications? Until recently, limited direct evidence indicated that signalling molecules are able to modulate the function of epigenetic modifiers, which shape the epigenome in the nucleus of the cell. New reports in embryonic stem cell model systems disclosed a tight relationship between major signalling pathways and the DNA methylation machinery, which opens up exciting avenues in the relationship between external signals and epigenetic memory. Here, I discuss mechanisms and concepts in DNA methylation patterning, the implications in normal development and disease, and future directions. © 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.
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