Since their first discovery, investigations of colorectal cancer stem cells (CSCs) have revealed some unexpected properties, including a high degree of heterogeneity and plasticity. By exploiting a combination of genetic, epigenetic, and microenvironmental factors, colorectal CSCs metastasize, resist chemotherapy, and continually adapt to a changing microenvironment, representing a formidable challenge to cancer eradication. Here, we review the current understanding of colorectal CSCs, including their origin, relationship to stem cells of the intestine, phenotypic characterization, and underlying regulatory mechanisms. We also discuss limitations to current preclinical models of colorectal cancer and how understanding CSC plasticity can improve the development of clinical strategies.
Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.