Researchers demonstrated that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and multiple types of human cancer cells share a genetic-expression pattern that is repressed in normal differentiated cells.
Initially, the scientists constructed a gene module map to systematically relate transcriptional programs in ESCs, adult tissue stem cells, and human cancers. They identified two predominant gene modules that distinguish ESCs and adult tissue stem cells.
“Importantly, the ESC-like transcriptional program was activated in diverse human epithelial cancers and strongly predicted metastasis and death,” says Eran Segal, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Weizmann Institute and one of the authors of the paper. Conversely, the gene module related to adult tissue stem cells had an opposite pattern—activated in normal tissues and repressed in various human cancers.
The investigators went on to demonstrate that c-Myc but not other oncogenes was sufficient to reactivate the ESC-like program in normal and cancer cells. In primary cells transformed by tumor-inducing genes Ras and I"B", c-Myc increased the number of tumor-initiating cells that exhibited key properties associated with cancer stem cells and dramatically increased the frequency of tumor formation in mice.
The team involved scientists from the Weizmann Institute and Stanford University. The research will be published in the April 10 issue of Cell Stem Cell.