Differential miRNA Expression Contributes to Emergence of Multiple Cancer Stem Cell Subpopulations in Human Colorectal Cancer

Victoria A. Stark, Caroline O. B. Facey, Lynn M. Opdenaker, Jeremy Z. Fields and Bruce M. Boman*

One reason for lack of efficacy in cancer therapeutics is tumor heterogeneity. We hypothesize that tumor heterogeneity arises due to emergence of multiple Cancer Stem Cell (CSC) subpopulations because miRNAs regulate expression of stem cell genes in CSCs. Our goal was to determine if: i) multiple CSC subpopulations exist in a human CRC cell population, and ii) miRNAs are differentially expressed in the different CSC subpopulations. We discovered that at least four different CSC populations (ALDH1, CD166, LGR5, and LRIG1) exist in the HT29 cell line. CSC subpopulations were quantified using co-staining for multiple stem cell markers, isolated using FACS, and analyzed by NanoString miRNA profiling. The miRNA expression pattern in each CSC subpopulation was analyzed relative to miRNA expression patterns in other CSC subpopulations. Messenger RNAs predicted to be targeted by the up-regulated miRNAs in each CSC subpopulation were: 1) identified using bioinformatics analyses, and 2) classified according to their predicted functions using David functional annotation analyses. We found multiple CSC subpopulations with a unique miRNA signature in each CSC subpopulation. Notably, the miRNAs expressed within one CSC subpopulation are predicted to target and down-regulate the CSC genes and pathways that establish the other CSC subpopulations. Moreover, mRNAs predicted to be targeted by miRNAs in the different CSC subpopulations have different cellular functional classifications. That different CSC subpopulations express miRNAs that are predicted to target CSC genes expressed in other CSC subpopulations provides a mechanism that might explain the co-existence of multiple CSC subpopulations, tumor heterogeneity, and cancer therapy resistance.

Published Date: 2023-03-29; Received Date: 2023-02-20