The cancer stem cell phenotype as a determinant factor of the heterotypic nature of breast tumors

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2017 May;113:111-121. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2017.03.016. Epub 2017 Mar 16.


Gathering evidence supports the existence of a population of cells with stem-like characteristics, named cancer stem cells (CSC), which is involved not only in tumor recurrence but also in tumorigenicity, metastization and drug resistance. Several markers have been used to identify putative CSC sub-populations in different cancers. Notwithstanding, it has been acknowledged that breast CSC may originate from non-stem cancer cells (non-SCC), interconverting through an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition-mediated process, and presenting several deregulated canonical and developmental signaling pathways. These support the heterogeneity that, directly or indirectly, influences fundamental biological features supporting breast tumor development. Accordingly, CSC have increasingly become highly relevant cellular targets. In this review, we will address the stemness concept in cancer, setting the perspective on CSC and their origin, by exploring their relation and regulation within the tumor microenvironment, in the context of emerging therapeutic targets. Within this framework, we will discuss nucleolin, a protein that has been associated with angiogenesis and, more recently, with the stemness phenotype, becoming a common denominator between CSC and non-SCC for multicellular targeting.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Cancer stem cells; Nucleolin; Tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / physiology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Phosphoproteins*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tumor Microenvironment*


  • Phosphoproteins
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • nucleolin