Preservation of a small population of cancer stem cells (CSCs) within a heterogeneous carcinoma serves as a paradigm to understand how select cells in a tissue maintain their undifferentiated status. In both embryogenesis and cancer, Snail has been correlated with stemness, but the molecular underpinning of this phenomenon remains largely ill-defined. In models of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), we discovered a non-epithelial-mesenchymal transition function for the transcription factor Snail in maintaining the stemness of epidermal keratinocytes. Snail-expressing cells secrete the matricellular protein Mindin, which functions in an autocrine fashion to activate a Src-STAT3 pathway to reinforce their stem/progenitor phenotype. This pathway is activated by the engagement of Mindin with the leukocyte-specific integrin, CD11b (ITGAM), which is also unexpectedly expressed by epidermal keratinocytes. Interestingly, disruption of this signaling module in human cSCC attenuates tumorigenesis, suggesting that targeting Mindin would be a promising therapeutic approach to hinder cancer recurrence.
Keywords: CP: Cancer; CP: Developmental biology; Cancer stem cells; EMT; Mindin; SFK; STAT3; Snail; Tumor heterogeneity; carcinoma; skin cancer.
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