Introduction: CD133 (PROM1) is a potential marker for cancer stem cells (CSCs), including those found in brain tumors. Recently, medulloblastoma (MB)-derived CD133-positive cells were found to have CSC-like properties and were proposed to be important contributors to tumorigenicity, cancer progression, and chemoradioresistance. However, the biomolecular pathways and therapeutic targets specific to MB-derived CSCs remain unresolved.
Materials and methods: In the present study, we isolated CD133(+) cells from MB cell lines and determined that they showed increased tumorigenicity, radioresistance, and higher expression of both embryonic stem cell-related and drug resistance-related genes compared to CD133(-) cells. Bioinformatics analysis suggested that the STAT3 pathway might be important in MB and CD133(+) cells. To evaluate the effects of inhibiting the STAT3 pathway, MB-derived CD133(+/-) cells were treated with the potent STAT3 inhibitor, cucurbitacin I. Treatment with cucurbitacin I significantly suppressed the CSC-like properties and stemness gene signature of MB-derived CD133(+) cells. Furthermore, cucurbitacin I treatment increased the apoptotic sensitivity of MB-derived CD133(+) cells to radiation and chemotherapeutic drugs. Notably, cucurbitacin I demonstrated synergistic effects with ionizing radiation to inhibit tumorigenicity in MB-CD133(+)-inoculated mice.
Results: These results indicate that the STAT3 pathway plays a key role in mediating CSC properties in MB-derived CD133(+) cells. Targeting STAT3 with cucurbitacin I may therefore represent a novel therapeutic approach for treating malignant brain tumors.