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PI3K/Akt pathway and Nanog maintain cancer stem cells in sarcomas
Oncogenesis  (IF7.485),  Pub Date : 2021-01-19, DOI: 10.1038/s41389-020-00300-z
Changhwan Yoon, Jun Lu, Brendan C. Yi, Kevin K. Chang, M. Celeste Simon, Sandra Ryeom, Sam S. Yoon

The self-renewal transcription factor Nanog and the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)–Akt pathway are known to be essential for maintenance of mesenchymal stem cells. We evaluated their contribution to the maintenance of CD133(+) cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) and spheroid-forming cells in patient-derived cell lines from three human sarcoma subtypes: HT1080 fibrosarcoma, SK-LMS-1 leiomyosarcoma, and DDLS8817 dedifferentiated liposarcoma. Levels of Nanog and activated Akt were significantly higher in sarcoma cells grown as spheroids or sorted for CD133 expression to enrich for CSCs. shRNA knockdown of Nanog decreased spheroid formation 10- to 14-fold, and reversed resistance to both doxorubicin and radiation in vitro and in H1080 flank xenografts. In the HT1080 xenograft model, doxorubicin and Nanog knockdown reduced tumor growth by 34% and 45%, respectively, and the combination reduced tumor growth by 74%. Using a human phospho-kinase antibody array, Akt1/2 signaling, known to regulate Nanog, was found to be highly activated in sarcoma spheroid cells compared with monolayer cells. Pharmacologic inhibition of Akt using LY294002 and Akt1/2 knockdown using shRNA in sarcoma CSCs decreased Nanog expression and spheroid formation and reversed chemotherapy resistance. Akt1/2 inhibition combined with doxorubicin treatment of HT1080 flank xenografts reduced tumor growth by 73%. Finally, in a human sarcoma tumor microarray, expression of CD133, Nanog, and phospho-Akt were 1.8- to 6.8-fold higher in tumor tissue compared with normal tissue. Together, these results indicate that the Akt1/2–Nanog pathway is critical for maintenance of sarcoma CSCs and spheroid-forming cells, supporting further exploration of this pathway as a therapeutic target in sarcoma.