Colorectal cancer lethality usually results from post-treatment relapse in the majority of stage II-IV patients, due to the enhanced resistance of Cancer Stem Cells (CSCs). Here, we show that the nuclear receptor Pregnane X Receptor (PXR, NR1I2), behaves as a key driver of CSC-mediated tumor recurrence. First, PXR is specifically expressed in CSCs, where it drives the expression of genes involved in self-renewal and chemoresistance. Clinically, high levels of PXR correlate with poor recurrence-free survival in a cohort of >200 stage II/III colorectal cancer patients treated with chemotherapy, for whom finding biomarkers of treatment outcome is an urgent clinical need. shRNA silencing of PXR increased the chemo-sensitivity of human colon CSCs, reduced their self-renewal and tumor-initiating potential, and drastically delayed tumor recurrence in mice following chemotherapy. This study uncovers PXR as a key factor for CSC self-renewal and chemoresistance and targeting PXR thus represents a promising strategy to minimize colorectal cancer relapse by selectively sensitizing CSCs to chemotherapy.
Keywords: PXR; cancer stem cell; colorectal cancer; tumor recurrence.