Background: Liver cancer stem cells (LCSCs) contribute to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development, metastasis, and drug resistance. MSI2 and Notch1 signaling are involved in the maintenance of CSCs. However, it is unknown whether MSI2 and Notch1 are involved in the maintenance of CD44v6+ LCSCs. Therefore, we investigated the clinical significance and function of MSI2 and its relationship with Notch1 signaling in the maintenance of stemness properties in CD44v6+ LCSCs.
Methods: The expression of MSI2 and CD44v6 were detected by fresh specimens and a HCC tissue microarray. The tissue microarray containing 82 HCC samples was used to analyze the correlation between CD44v6 and MSI2. CD44v6+/- cells were isolated using microbeads sorting. We explored the roles of MSI2 and Notch1 signaling in CD44v6+ LCSCs by sphere formation assay, transwell assay, clone formation assay in vitro, and xenograft tumor models in vivo. A Notch RT2 PCR Array, Co-immunoprecipitation, and RNA-immunoprecipitation were used to further investigate the molecular mechanism of MSI2 in activating Notch1 signaling.
Results: Here, we found MSI2 expression was positively correlated with high CD44v6 expression in HCC tissues, and further correlated with tumor differentiation. CD44v6+ cells isolated from HCC cell lines exhibited increased self-renewal, proliferation, migration and invasion, resistance to Sorafenib and tumorigenic capacity. Both MSI2 and Notch1 signaling were elevated in sorted CD44v6+ cells than CD44v6- cells and played essential roles in the maintenance of stemness of CD44v6+ LCSCs. Mechanically, MSI2 directly bound to Lunatic fringe (LFNG) mRNA and protein, resulting in Notch1 activation.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrated that MSI2 maintained the stemness of CD44v6+ LCSCs by activating Notch1 signaling through the interaction with LFNG, which could be a potential molecular target for stem cell-targeted therapy for liver cancer.
Keywords: CD44 variant exon 6; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Liver cancer stem cells; Musashi2; Notch1 signaling pathway.