Background & aims: Transformation of stem/progenitor cells has been associated with tumorigenesis in multiple tissues, but stem cells in the stomach have been hard to localize. We therefore aimed to use a combination of several markers to better target oncogenes to gastric stem cells and understand their behavior in the initial stages of gastric tumorigenesis.
Methods: Mouse models of gastric metaplasia and cancer by targeting stem/progenitor cells were generated and analyzed with techniques including reanalysis of single-cell RNA sequencing and immunostaining. Gastric cancer cell organoids were genetically manipulated with clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) for functional studies. Cell division was determined by bromodeoxyuridine-chasing assay and the assessment of the orientation of the mitotic spindles. Gastric tissues from patients were examined by histopathology and immunostaining.
Results: Oncogenic insults lead to expansion of SOX9+ progenitor cells in the mouse stomach. Genetic lineage tracing and organoid culture studies show that SOX9+ gastric epithelial cells overlap with SOX2+ progenitors and include stem cells that can self-renew and differentiate to generate all gastric epithelial cells. Moreover, oncogenic targeting of SOX9+SOX2+ cells leads to invasive gastric cancer in our novel mouse model (Sox2-CreERT;Sox9-loxp(66)-rtTA-T2A-Flpo-IRES-loxp(71);Kras(Frt-STOP-Frt-G12D);P53R172H), which combines Cre-loxp and Flippase-Frt genetic recombination systems. Sox9 deletion impedes the expansion of gastric progenitor cells and blocks neoplasia after Kras activation. Although Sox9 is not required for maintaining tissue homeostasis where asymmetric division predominates, loss of Sox9 in the setting of Kras activation leads to reduced symmetric cell division and effectively attenuates the Kras-dependent expansion of stem/progenitor cells. Similarly, Sox9 deletion in gastric cancer organoids reduces symmetric cell division, organoid number, and organoid size. In patients with gastric cancer, high levels of SOX9 are associated with recurrence and poor prognosis.
Conclusion: SOX9 marks gastric stem cells and modulates biased symmetric cell division, which appears to be required for the malignant transformation of gastric stem cells.
Keywords: Gastric Cancer; Metaplasia; Mouse Model; Neoplasia; SOX2.
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