Cancer stem-like cells (CSC) are thought to drive tumor initiation, metastasis, relapse and therapeutic resistance, but their specific pathogenic characters in many cancers including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have yet to be well defined. Here we develop findings that the growth factor HGF promotes CSC sphere formation in NSCLC cell populations. In patient-derived sphere-forming assays (PD-SFA) with HGF, CD49f and CD104 were defined as novel markers of lung CSC (LCSC). In particular, we isolated a subpopulation of CD166+CD49fhiCD104-Lin- LCSC present in all human specimens of NSCLC examined, regardless of their histological subtypes or genetic driver mutations. This specific cell population was tumorigenic and capable of self-renewal, giving rise to tumor spheres in vitro and orthotopic lung tumors in immune-compromised mice. Mechanistic investigations established that NOTCH1 was preferentially expressed in this cell subpopulation and required for self-renewal via the transcription factor HES1. Through a distinct HES1-independent pathway, NOTCH1 also protected LCSCs from cisplatin-induced cell death. Notably, treatment with a γ-secretase inhibitor that blunts NOTCH1 function ablated self-renewing LCSC activity and restored platinum sensitivity in vitro and in vivo. Overall, our results define the pathogenic characters of a cancer stem-like subpopulation in lung cancer, the targeting of which may relieve platinum resistance in this disease.
- Received June 30, 2016.
- Revision received March 24, 2017.
- Accepted April 5, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.