MUC1-C drives stemness in progression of colitis to colorectal cancer

JCI Insight. 2020 Jun 18;5(12):e137112. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.137112.


Colitis is associated with the development of colorectal cancer (CRC) by largely undefined mechanisms that are critical for understanding the link between inflammation and cancer. Intestinal stem cells (ISCs) marked by leucine-rich repeat-containing G protein-coupled receptor 5 (LGR5) expression are of importance in both the inflammatory response to colitis and progression to colitis-associated colon cancer (CACC). Here, we report in human mucin 1-transgenic (MUC1-transgenic) mouse models of CACC, targeting the MUC1-C oncogenic protein suppresses the (a) Lgr5+ ISC population, (b) induction of Myc and core pluripotency stem cell factors, and (c) severity and progression of colitis to dysplasia and cancer. By extension to human colon cancer cells, we demonstrate that MUC1-C drives MYC, forms a complex with MYC on the LGR5 promoter, and activates LGR5 expression. We also show in CRC cells that MUC1-C induces cancer stem cell (CSC) markers (BMI1, ALDH1, FOXA1, LIN28B) and the OCT4, SOX2, and NANOG pluripotency factors. Consistent with conferring the CSC state, targeting MUC1-C suppresses the capacity of CRC cells to promote wound healing, invasion, self-renewal, and tumorigenicity. In analysis of human tissues, MUC1 expression associates with activation of inflammatory pathways, development of colitis, and aggressiveness of CRCs. These results collectively indicate that MUC1-C is of importance for integrating stemness and pluripotency in colitis and CRC. Of clinical relevance, the findings further indicate that MUC1-C represents a potentially previously unrecognized target that is druggable for treating progression of colitis and CRC.

Keywords: Adult stem cells; Colorectal cancer; Inflammatory bowel disease; Oncology; Therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mucin-1 / genetics
  • Mucin-1 / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism


  • Mucin-1
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • muc1 protein, mouse