Research highlight

Microenvironment regulates colon cancer stem cells

Nature Cell Biology

April 26, 2010

The cancer microenvironment can influence cell signalling in cancer stem cells reports a study published online in Nature Cell Biology this week. This finding suggests that the interaction between the cancer stem cells and their microenvironment may be a potential target in development of therapies for colon cancer.

Whereas most cells in a tumour are thought to differentiate and lose their tumorigenic potential, a subset of tumour cells (called cancer stem cells) are endowed with tumorigenic capacity. Jan Paul Medema and colleagues find that cells surrounding the colon cancer stem cells contribute to the maintenance of high Wnt signalling activity ― which is important for the regulation of stem cell self-renewal ― in these tumour-promoting cells. Differentiated cancer cells, which have lost the capacity to form tumours, can also regain their tumorigenic capacity when stimulated with factors ― such as hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) ― secreted by the microenvironment.

An accompanying News and Views article by Hasan Korkaya and Max Wicha discusses the possibility that an important property of cancer stem cells might be their ability to create and interact with the microenvironment in a manner that promotes their self-renewal, and highlights the possible implications of these findings for treatment of colon cancer.

doi: 10.1038/ncb2048

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