Background: Brain cancer stem-like cells (bCSC) are cancer cells with neural stem cell (NSC)-like properties found in the devastating brain tumor glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). bCSC are proposed a central role in tumor initiation, progression, treatment resistance and relapse and as such present a promising target in GBM research. The Notch signaling pathway is often deregulated in GBM and we have previously characterized GBM-derived bCSC cultures based on their expression of the Notch-1 receptor and found that it could be used as predictive marker for the effect of Notch inhibition. The aim of the present project was therefore to further elucidate the significance of Notch pathway activity for the tumorigenic properties of GBM-derived bCSC.
Methods: Human-derived GBM xenograft cells previously established as NSC-like neurosphere cultures were used. Notch inhibition was accomplished by exposing the cells to the gamma-secretase inhibitor DAPT prior to gene expression analysis and intracranial injection into immunocompromised mice.
Results: By analyzing the expression of several Notch pathway components, we found that the cultures indeed displayed different Notch pathway signatures. However, when DAPT-treated neurosphere cells were injected into the brain of immunocompromised mice, no increase in survival was obtained regardless of Notch pathway signature and Notch inhibition. We did however observe a decrease in the expression of the stem cell marker Nestin, an increase in the proliferative marker Ki-67 and an increased number of abnormal vessels in tumors formed from DAPT-treated, high Notch-1 expressing cultures, when compared with the control.
Conclusion: Based on the presented results we propose that Notch inhibition partly induces differentiation of bCSC, and selects for a cell type that more strongly induces angiogenesis if the treatment is not sustained. However, this more differentiated cell type might prove to be more sensitive to conventional therapies.
Keywords: DAPT; Notch activity; Notch signaling; brain cancer stem-like cells; glioblastoma multiforme; neurosphere culture; orthotopic xenograft.