Concise Review: NANOG in Cancer Stem Cells and Tumor Development: An Update and Outstanding Questions

Stem Cells. 2015 Aug;33(8):2381-90. doi: 10.1002/stem.2007. Epub 2015 May 13.


The homeobox domain transcription factor NANOG, a key regulator of embryonic development and cellular reprogramming, has been reported to be broadly expressed in human cancers. Functional studies have provided strong evidence that NANOG possesses protumorigenic attributes. In addition to promoting self-renewal and long-term proliferative potential of stem-like cancer cells, NANOG-mediated oncogenic reprogramming may underlie clinical manifestations of malignant disease. In this review, we examine the molecular origin, expression, biological activities, and mechanisms of action of NANOG in various malignancies. We also consider clinical implications such as correlations between NANOG expression and cancer prognosis and/or response to therapy. We surmise that NANOG potentiates the molecular circuitry of tumorigenesis, and thus may represent a novel therapeutic target or biomarker for the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment outcome of cancer. Finally, we present critical pending questions relating NANOG to cancer stem cells and tumor development.

Keywords: Cancer stem cells; NANOG; Self-renewal; Tumor development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • Cellular Reprogramming*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Nanog Homeobox Protein
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • NANOG protein, human
  • Nanog Homeobox Protein
  • Neoplasm Proteins