Leukemia inhibitory factor functions in parallel with interleukin-6 to promote ovarian cancer growth

Oncogene. 2019 Feb;38(9):1576-1584. doi: 10.1038/s41388-018-0523-6. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


Ovarian carcinoma-associated mesenchymal stem cells (CA-MSC) produce not only high levels of interleukin-6 (IL6) but also the related cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). IL6-mediated activation of STAT3 is implicated as a critical therapeutic target for cancer therapy. Less is known about the role of LIF, which can similarly activate STAT3, in ovarian cancer. We therefore sought to evaluate the tumorigenic effects of CA-MSC paracrine LIF signaling and the redundancy of IL6 and LIF in activating ovarian cancer STAT3 mediated cancer growth. As expected, we found that both IL6 and LIF induce STAT3 phosphorylation in tumor cells. In addition, both IL6 and LIF increased the percentage of ALDH+ ovarian cancer stem-like cells (CSC). Supporting redundancy of function by the two cytokines, CA-MSC induced STAT3 phosphorylation and increased cancer cell "stemness". This effect was not inhibited by LIF or IL6 blocking antibodies alone, but was prevented by dual IL6/LIF blockade or JAK2 inhibition. Similarly, small hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated reduction of IL6 or LIF in CA-MSC partially decreased but could not completely abrograte the ability of CA-MSC to induce STAT3 phosphorylation and stemness. Importantly, the in vivo pro-tumorigenic effect of CA-MSC is abrogated by dual blockade with the JAK2 inhibitor ruxolitinib to a much greater extent than treatment with anti-IL6 or anti-LIF antibody alone. Ruxolitinib treatment also improves survival in the immunocompetent ovarian cancer mouse model system with ID8 tumor cells plus MSC. Ruxolitinib-treated tumors in both the immunocompromised and immunocompetent animal models demonstrate decreased phospho-STAT3, indicating on-target activity. In conclusion, CA-MSC activate ovarian cancer cell STAT3 signaling via IL6 and LIF and increase tumor cell stemness. This functional redundancy suggests that therapeutic targeting of a single cytokine may be less effective than strategies such as dual inhibitor therapy or targeting shared downstream factors of the JAK/STAT pathway.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics*
  • Janus Kinase 2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Binding
  • Pyrazoles / pharmacology
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / genetics*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • INCB018424
  • Interleukin-6
  • LIF protein, human
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor
  • Pyrazoles
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • STAT3 protein, human
  • JAK2 protein, human
  • Janus Kinase 2