c-Jun N-terminal kinase has a pivotal role in the maintenance of self-renewal and tumorigenicity in glioma stem-like cells

Oncogene. 2012 Nov 1;31(44):4655-66. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.634. Epub 2012 Jan 16.


Uncovering the mechanisms that govern the maintenance of stem-like cancer cells is critical for developing therapeutic strategies for targeting these cells. Constitutive activation of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) has been reported in gliomas and correlates with histological grade. Here, we found that JNK signaling is crucial for the maintenance of 'stemness' in glioma cells. Sphere-cultured glioma cells showed more phosphorylation of JNK compared with serum-containing monolayer cultures. Importantly, blockade of JNK signaling with SP600125 or small interfering RNAs targeting JNK1 or JNK2 significantly reduced the CD133(+)/Nestin(+) population and suppressed sphere formation, colony formation in soft agar, and expression of stem cell markers in sphere-cultured glioma cells. Intriguingly, sphere-cultured glioma cells exhibited enhanced expression of Notch-2, but not Notch-1, -3 or -4, and JNK inhibition almost completely abrogated this increase. Blocking the phosphoinoside 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway with LY294002 or si-Akt also suppressed the self-renewal of sphere-cultured glioma cells. PI3K, but not Akt, had a role as an upstream kinase in JNK1/2 activation. In addition, treatment with si-JNK greatly increased etoposide- and ionizing radiation (IR)-induced cell death in glioma spheres. Consistent with glioma cell lines, glioma stem-like cells isolated from primary patient glioma cells also had a higher activity of JNK and Notch-2 expression. Importantly, inhibition of JNK2 led to a decrease of Notch-2 expression and suppressed the CD133(+)/Nestin(+) cell population in patient-derived primary glioma cells. Finally, downregulation of JNK2 almost completely suppressed intracranial tumor formation by glioma cells in nude mice. Taken together, these data demonstrate that JNK signaling is crucial for the maintenance of self-renewal and tumorigenicity of glioma stem-like cells and drug/IR resistance, and can be considered a promising target for eliminating stem-like cancer cells in gliomas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthracenes / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism*
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Glioma / enzymology*
  • Glioma / genetics
  • Glioma / metabolism
  • Humans
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / enzymology*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Anthracenes
  • pyrazolanthrone
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases