Differentiation of glioblastoma multiforme stem-like cells leads to downregulation of EGFR and EGFRvIII and decreased tumorigenic and stem-like cell potential

Cancer Biol Ther. 2014 Feb;15(2):216-24. doi: 10.4161/cbt.26736. Epub 2013 Nov 1.


Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and devastating primary brain tumor among adults. Despite recent treatment progress, most patients succumb to their disease within 2 years of diagnosis. Current research has highlighted the importance of a subpopulation of cells, assigned brain cancer stem-like cells (bCSC), to play a pivotal role in GBM malignancy. bCSC are identified by their resemblance to normal neural stem cells (NSC), and it is speculated that the bCSC have to be targeted in order to improve treatment outcome for GBM patients. One hallmark of GBM is aberrant expression and activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and expression of a deletion variant EGFRvIII. In the normal brain, EGFR is expressed in neurogenic areas where also NSC are located and it has been shown that EGFR is involved in regulation of NSC proliferation, migration, and differentiation. This led us to speculate if EGFR and EGFRvIII are involved in the regulation of bCSC. In this study we use GBM neurosphere cultures, known to preserve bCSC features. We demonstrate that EGFR and EGFRvIII are downregulated upon differentiation and moreover that when EGFR signaling is abrogated, differentiation is induced. Furthermore, we show that differentiation leads to decreased tumorigenic and stem cell-like potential of the neurosphere cultures and that by specifically inhibiting EGFR signaling it is possible to target the bCSC population. Our results suggest that differentiation therapy, possibly along with anti-EGFR treatment would be a feasible treatment option for patients with GBM, by targeting the bCSC population.

Keywords: EGFR; EGFRvIII; differentiation; glioblastoma multiforme.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Neoplasms / genetics
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor / drug effects
  • Culture Media, Serum-Free
  • Down-Regulation
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Glioblastoma / genetics
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism
  • Glioblastoma / pathology*
  • Heterografts
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology


  • Culture Media, Serum-Free
  • epidermal growth factor receptor VIII
  • Tretinoin
  • ErbB Receptors