Targeting Cancer Stem Cell Markers or Pathways: A Potential Therapeutic Strategy for Oral Cancer Treatment

Int J Stem Cells. 2021 Nov 30;14(4):386-399. doi: 10.15283/ijsc21084.


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a small subset of cancer cells with stem cell-like properties, self-renewal potential, and differentiation capacity into multiple cell types. Critical genetic alterations or aberrantly activated signaling pathways associated with drug resistance and recurrence have been observed in multiple types of CSCs. In this context, CSCs are considered to be responsible for tumor initiation, growth, progression, therapeutic resistance, and metastasis. Therefore, to effectively eradicate CSCs, tremendous efforts have been devoted to identify specific target molecules that play a critical role in regulating their distinct functions and to develop novel therapeutics, such as proteins, monoclonal antibodies, selective small molecule inhibitors, and small antisense RNA (asRNA) drugs. Similar to other CSC types, oral CSCs can be characterized by certain pluripotency-associated markers, and oral CSCs can also survive and form 3D tumor spheres in suspension culture conditions. These oral CSC-targeting therapeutics selectively suppress specific surface markers or key signaling components and subsequently inhibit the stem-like properties of oral CSCs. A large number of new therapeutic candidates have been tested, and some products are currently in the pre-clinical or clinical development phase. In the present study, we review new oral CSC-targeted therapeutic strategies and discuss the various specific CSC surface markers and key signaling components involved in the stem-like properties, growth, drug resistance, and tumorigenicity of oral CSCs.

Keywords: Cancer stem cells; Drug resistance; Recurrence; Stem cell-like characteristics.

Publication types

  • Review