Piperlongumine (PL), a natural product of Piper longum, inhibits multiple malignant phenotypes. Therefore, the present study examined whether PL suppresses cancer stemness in oral cancer. The cellular effects of PL were determined by examining alterations in tumor sphere formation, cell migration, invasion, proliferation ability, chemosensitivity and radiosensitivity. Reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis and western blotting were performed in order to determine molecular expression levels. The present study revealed that PL inhibited cancer stem cell-forming ability and suppressed the expression of the stemness-related transcription factors SRY-Box 2, POU class 5 homeobox 1, and Nanog homeobox. However, it increased the expression of the differentiation marker cytokeratin 18. PL also suppressed cell migration and invasion, resulting in the elimination of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Furthermore, PL increased chemo- and radiosensitivity and suppressed tumor growth in vitro and in vivo. The results of the present study suggested that PL inhibits malignant phenotypes via the suppression of cancer stemness in oral cancer. Thus, PL may serve as an effective therapeutic agent for oral cancer.
Keywords: cancer stem cells; chemosensitivity; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; oral cancer; piperlongumine; radiosensitivity.
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