Thyroid tumors are extremely heterogeneous varying from almost benign tumors with good prognosis as papillary or follicular tumors, to the undifferentiated ones with severe prognosis. Recently, several models of thyroid carcinogenesis have been described, mostly hypothesizing a major role of the thyroid cancer stem cell (TCSC) population in both cancer initiation and metastasis formation. However, the cellular origin of TCSC is still incompletely understood. Here, we review the principal epigenetic mechanisms relevant to TCSC origin and maintenance in both well-differentiated and anaplastic thyroid tumors. Specifically, we describe the alterations in DNA methylation, histone modifiers, and microRNAs (miRNAs) involved in TCSC survival, focusing on the potential of targeting aberrant epigenetic modifications for developing novel therapeutic approaches. Moreover, we discuss the bidirectional relationship between TCSCs and immune cells. The cells of innate and adaptive response can promote the TCSC-driven tumorigenesis, and conversely, TCSCs may favor the expansion of immune cells with protumorigenic functions. Finally, we evaluate the role of the tumor microenvironment and the complex cross-talk of chemokines, hormones, and cytokines in regulating thyroid tumor initiation, progression, and therapy refractoriness. The re-education of the stromal cells can be an effective strategy to fight thyroid cancer. Dissecting the genetic and epigenetic landscape of TCSCs and their interactions with tumor microenvironment cells is urgently needed to select more appropriate treatment and improve the outcome of patients affected by advanced differentiated and undifferentiated thyroid cancers.
Despite the recent advances in cancer patient management and in the development of targeted therapies, systemic chemotherapy is currently used as a first-line treatment for many cancer types. After an initial partial response, patients become refractory to standard therapy fostering rapid tumor progression. Compelling evidence highlights that the resistance to chemotherapeutic regimens is a peculiarity of a subpopulation of cancer cells within tumor mass, known as cancer stem cells (CSCs). This cellular compartment is endowed with tumor-initiating and metastasis formation capabilities. CSC chemoresistance is sustained by a plethora of grow factors and cytokines released by neighboring tumor microenvironment (TME), which is mainly composed by adipocytes, cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), immune and endothelial cells. TME strengthens CSC refractoriness to standard and targeted therapies by enhancing survival signaling pathways, DNA repair machinery, expression of drug efflux transporters and anti-apoptotic proteins. In the last years many efforts have been made to understand CSC-TME crosstalk and develop therapeutic strategy halting this interplay. Here, we report the combinatorial approaches, which perturb the interaction network between CSCs and the different component of TME.
Although improvement in early diagnosis and treatment ameliorated life expectancy of cancer patients, metastatic disease still lacks effective therapeutic approaches. Resistance to anticancer therapies stems from the refractoriness of a subpopulation of cancer cells—termed cancer stem cells (CSCs)—which is endowed with tumor initiation and metastasis formation potential. CSCs are heterogeneous and diverge by phenotypic, functional and metabolic perspectives. Intrinsic as well as extrinsic stimuli dictated by the tumor microenvironment (TME)have critical roles in determining cell metabolic reprogramming from glycolytic toward an oxidative phenotype and vice versa, allowing cancer cells to thrive in adverse milieus. Crosstalk between cancer cells and the surrounding microenvironment occurs through the interchange of metabolites, miRNAs and exosomes that drive cancer cells metabolic adaptation. Herein, we identify the metabolic nodes of CSCs and discuss the latest advances in targeting metabolic demands of both CSCs and stromal cells with the scope of improving current therapies and preventing cancer progression.
Metastatic disease represents the major cause of death in oncologic patients worldwide. Accumulating evidence have highlighted the relevance of a small population of cancer cells, named cancer stem cells (CSCs), in the resistance to therapies, as well as cancer recurrence and metastasis. Standard anti-cancer treatments are not always conclusively curative, posing an urgent need to discover new targets for an effective therapy. Kinases and phosphatases are implicated in many cellular processes, such as proliferation, differentiation and oncogenic transformation. These proteins are crucial regulators of intracellular signaling pathways mediating multiple cellular activities. Therefore, alterations in kinases and phosphatases functionality is a hallmark of cancer. Notwithstanding the role of kinases and phosphatases in cancer has been widely investigated, their aberrant activation in the compartment of CSCs is nowadays being explored as new potential Achille’s heel to strike. Here, we provide a comprehensive overview of the major protein kinases and phosphatases pathways by which CSCs can evade normal physiological constraints on survival, growth, and invasion. Moreover, we discuss the potential of inhibitors of these proteins in counteracting CSCs expansion during cancer development and progression.
Breast cancer (BC) is the second cause of cancer-related deceases in the worldwide female population. Despite the successful treatment advances, 25% of BC develops resistance to current therapeutic regimens, thereby remaining a major hurdle for patient management. Current therapies, targeting the molecular events underpinning the adaptive resistance, still require effort to improve BC treatment. Using BC sphere cells (BCSphCs) as a model, here we showed that BC stem-like cells express high levels of Myc, which requires the presence of the multifunctional DNA/RNA binding protein Sam68 for the DNA-damage repair. Analysis of a cohort of BC patients displayed that Sam68 is an independent negative factor correlated with the progression of the disease. Genetic inhibition of Sam68 caused a defect in PARP-induced PAR chain synthesis upon DNA-damaging insults, resulting in cell death of TNBC cells. In contrast, BC stem-like cells were able to survive due to an upregulation of Rad51. Importantly, the inhibition of Rad51 showed synthetic lethal effect with the silencing of Sam68, hampering the cell viability of patient-derived BCSphCs and stabilizing the growth of tumor xenografts, including those TNBC carrying BRCA mutation. Moreover, the analysis of Myc, Sam68 and Rad51 expression demarcated a signature of a poor outcome in a large cohort of BC patients. Thus, our findings suggest the importance of targeting Sam68-PARP1 axis and Rad51 as potential therapeutic candidates to counteract the expansion of BC cells with an aggressive phenotype.
Despite advances in the curative approach, the survival rate of advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) patients is still poor, which is likely due to the emergence of cancer cell clones resistant to the available therapeutic options. We have already shown that CD44v6-positive CRC stem cells (CR-CSCs) are refractory toward standard anti-tumor therapeutic agents due to the activation of the PI3K pathway together with high HER2 expression levels. Tumor microenvironmental cytokines confer resistance to CR-CSCs against HER2/PI3K targeting by enhancing activation of the MAPK pathway. Here, we show that the CSC compartment, spared by BRAF inhibitor-based targeted therapy, is associated with increased expression levels of CD44v6 and Myc and retains boosted clonogenic activity along with residual tumorigenic potential. Inhibition of Myc transcription, downstream of the MAPK cascade components, and PI3K pathway activity was able to overcome the protective effects of microenvironmental cytokines, affecting the survival and the clonogenic activity of CR-CSCs, regardless of their mutational background. Likewise, the double targeting induced stabilization of mouse tumor avatars. Altogether, these data outline the rationale for dual kinase targeting of CR-CSCs to prevent their adaptive response, which would lead to disease progression.
Oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes are rarely mutated in several pediatric tumors and some early stage adult cancers. This suggests that an aberrant epigenetic reprogramming may crucially affect the tumorigenesis of these tumors. Compelling evidence support the hypothesis that cancer stem cells (CSCs), a cell subpopulation within the tumor bulk characterized by self-renewal capacity, metastatic potential and chemo-resistance, may derive from normal stem cells (NSCs) upon an epigenetic deregulation. Thus, a better understanding of the specific epigenetic alterations driving the transformation from NSCs into CSCs may help to identify efficacious treatments to target this aggressive subpopulation. Moreover, deepening the knowledge about these alterations may represent the framework to design novel therapeutic approaches also in the field of regenerative medicine in which bioengineering of NSCs has been evaluated. Here, we provide a broad overview about: 1) the role of aberrant epigenetic modifications contributing to CSC initiation, formation and maintenance, 2) the epigenetic inhibitors in clinical trial able to specifically target the CSC subpopulation, and 3) epigenetic drugs and stem cells used in regenerative medicine for cancer and diseases.
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