Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most fatal malignancies worldwide, and CD133 is a popular cancer stem cell (CSC) marker for HCC. CD133(+) CSCs have been reported to resist conventional chemo- and radiotherapy, but little is known about their response to immune surveillance. Interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) is one of key cytokines that the immune system produce to eradicate cancer cells, so we investigated the function of IFN-γ on CD133+ HCC CSCs in this study.
Methods: The response of CD133(+) cells to IFN-γ was performed with functional assays (cell proliferation assay and tumor formation in nude mice), flow cytometry, immunofluorescence staining and RNA interference.
Results: We found that IFN-γ inhibited the proliferation of cell lines with low percentage of CD133(+) cells (wild-type human cells, BEL7402, QGY7701) but it did not affect the proliferation of cell lines with high percentage of CD133(+) cells (wild-type human cells, Huh7, PLC8024) in vivo and in vitro (nude mice). Flow cytometry analysis demonstrated that the percentage of CD133+ cells increased after IFN-γ treatment of low CD133(+) cell lines. Furthermore, IFN-γ induced the autophagy of low CD133(+) cell lines to decrease proliferation.
Conclusion: CD133(+) HCC CSCs resisted IFN-γ-induced autophagy, which might also be a mechanism through which CSCs resist immune eradication.