Propagation of human prostate cancer stem-like cells occurs through EGFR-mediated ERK activation

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 19;8(4):e61716. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061716. Print 2013.


Prostate cancer stem-like cells (PCSCs) are being intensely investigated largely owing to their contributions towards prostate tumorigenesis, however, our understanding of PCSC biology, including their critical pathways, remains incompletely understood. While epidermal growth factor (EGF) is widely used in maintaining PCSC cells in vitro, the importance of EGF-dependent signaling and its downstream pathways in PCSC self-renewal are not well characterized. By investigating DU145 sphere cells, a population of prostate cancer cells with stem-like properties, we report here that epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling plays a critical role in the propagation of DU145 PCSCs. Activation of EGFR signaling via addition of EGF and ectopic expression of a constitutively-active EGFR mutant (EGFRvIII) increased sphere formation. Conversely, inhibition of EGFR signaling by using EGFR inhibitors (AG1478 and PD168393) and knockdown of EGFR significantly inhibited PCSC self-renewal. Consistent with the MEK-ERK pathway being a major target of EGFR signaling, activation of the MEK-ERK pathway contributed to EGFR-facilitated PCSC propagation. Modulation of EGFR signaling affected extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) activation. Inhibition of ERK activation through multiple approaches, including treatment with the MEK inhibitor U0126, ectopic expression of dominant-negative MEK1(K97M), and knockdown of either ERK1 or ERK2 resulted in a robust reduction in PCSC propagation. Collectively, the present study provides evidence that EGFR signaling promotes PCSC self-renewal, in part, by activating the MEK-ERK pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism*
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism
  • Mitogens / pharmacology
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / enzymology*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism
  • Spheroids, Cellular / pathology


  • Mitogens
  • epidermal growth factor receptor VIII
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases