Background: Malignant gliomas rank among the most lethal cancers. Gliomas display a striking cellular heterogeneity with a hierarchy of differentiation states. Recent studies support the existence of cancer stem cells in gliomas that are functionally defined by their capacity for extensive self-renewal and formation of secondary tumors that phenocopy the original tumors. As the c-Myc oncoprotein has recognized roles in normal stem cell biology, we hypothesized that c-Myc may contribute to cancer stem cell biology as these cells share characteristics with normal stem cells.
Methodology/principal findings: Based on previous methods that we and others have employed, tumor cell populations were enriched or depleted for cancer stem cells using the stem cell marker CD133 (Prominin-1). We characterized c-Myc expression in matched tumor cell populations using real time PCR, immunoblotting, immunofluorescence and flow cytometry. Here we report that c-Myc is highly expressed in glioma cancer stem cells relative to non-stem glioma cells. To interrogate the significance of c-Myc expression in glioma cancer stem cells, we targeted its expression using lentivirally transduced short hairpin RNA (shRNA). Knockdown of c-Myc in glioma cancer stem cells reduced proliferation with concomitant cell cycle arrest in the G(0)/G(1) phase and increased apoptosis. Non-stem glioma cells displayed limited dependence on c-Myc expression for survival and proliferation. Further, glioma cancer stem cells with decreased c-Myc levels failed to form neurospheres in vitro or tumors when xenotransplanted into the brains of immunocompromised mice.
Conclusions/significance: These findings support a central role of c-Myc in regulating proliferation and survival of glioma cancer stem cells. Targeting core stem cell pathways may offer improved therapeutic approaches for advanced cancers.