There is great interest in understanding how the cancer stem cell population may be maintained in solid tumors. Here, we show that tumor cells exhibiting stem-like properties and expression of pluripotency markers NANOG and OCT4 can arise from original differentiated tumor cells freshly isolated from human glioblastomas (GBM) and that have never known any serum culture conditions. Induction of EGR1 by EGFR/ERK signaling promoted cell conversion from a less aggressive, more differentiated cellular state to a self-renewing and strongly tumorigenic state, expressing NANOG and OCT4. Expression of these pluripotency markers occurred before the cells re-entered the cell cycle, demonstrating their capacity to change and dedifferentiate without any cell divisions. In differentiated GBM cells, ERK-mediated repression of miR-199a-3p induced EGR1 protein expression and triggered dedifferentiation. Overall, this signaling pathway constitutes an ERK-mediated "toggle switch" that promotes pluripotency marker expression and stem-like features in GBM cells. SIGNIFICANCE: This study defines an ERK-mediated molecular mechanism of dedifferentiation of GBM cells into a stem-like state, expressing markers of pluripotency.See related commentary by Koncar and Agnihotri, p. 3195.
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.