Background: Overexpression of Oct4, an important transcription factor of embryonic stem cells (ESC), has been reported in several cancers. The aim of this study was to determine the emerging role of Oct4 in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) both in vitro and in vivo.
Methodology/principal finding: Tumourigenic activity and molecular mechanisms of Oct4 overexpression or knockdown by lentiviral infection in OSCC was investigated in vitro and in vivo. Initially, we demonstrated that Oct4 expression was increased in OSCC cell lines as compared to a normal oral epithelial cell line SG. Overexpression of Oct4 was demonstrated to enhance cell proliferation, invasiveness, anchorage-independent growth and xenotransplantation tumourigenicity. These findings were coupled with epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) transformation in OSCCs. In contrast, the silence of Oct4 significantly blocked the xenograft tumorigenesis of OSCC-derived cancer stem cells (OSCC-CSCs) and significantly improved the recipient survival. Clinically, the level of Oct4 expression was higher in recurrent and metastatic OSCC specimens but lower in primary OSCC specimens.
Conclusion/significance: Our results suggest that Oct4-mediated tumorigenecity is associated with the regulation of EMT. Oct4 might be a therapeutic target for OSCC.