Malignant gliomas are locally aggressive, highly vascular tumors that have a dismal prognosis, and present therapies provide little improvement in the disease course and outcome. Many types of malignancies, including glioblastoma, originate from a population of cancer stem cells (CSCs) that are able to initiate and maintain tumors. Although CSCs only represent a small fraction of cells within a tumor, their high tumor-initiating capacity and therapeutic resistance drives tumorigenesis. Therefore, it is imperative to identify pathways associated with CSCs to devise strategies to selectively target them. In this study, we describe a novel relationship between glioblastoma CSCs and the Notch pathway, which involves the constitutive activation of STAT3 and NF-κB signaling. Glioma CSCs were isolated and maintained in vitro using an adherent culture system, and the biological properties were compared with the traditional cultures of CSCs grown as multicellular spheres under nonadherent culture conditions. Interestingly, both adherent and spheroid glioma CSCs show constitutive activation of the STAT3/NF-κB signaling pathway and up-regulation of STAT3- and NF-κB-dependent genes. Gene expression profiling also identified components of the Notch pathway as being deregulated in glioma CSCs, and the deregulated expression of these genes was sensitive to treatment with STAT3 and NF-κB inhibitors. This finding is particularly important because Notch signaling appears to play a key role in CSCs in a variety of cancers and controls cell fate determination, survival, proliferation, and the maintenance of stem cells. The constitutive activation of STAT3 and NF-κB signaling pathways that leads to the regulation of Notch pathway genes in glioma CSCs identifies novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of glioma.
Keywords: Cancer Stem Cells; Glioblastoma; Glioma; NF-κB (NF-κB); Notch Pathway; STAT3.