Tumorigenic potential is restored during differentiation in fusion-reprogrammed cancer cells

Yao J, Zhang L, Hu L, Guo B, Hu X, Borjigin U, Wei Z, Chen Y, Lv M, Lau JT, Wang X, Li G, Hu YP. Cell Death Dis. 2016 Jul 28;7(7):e2314. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2016.189. PMID: 27468690

Detailed understanding of the mechanistic steps underlying tumor initiation and malignant progression is critical for insights of potentially novel therapeutic modalities. Cellular reprogramming is an approach of particular interest because it can provide a means to reset the differentiation state of the cancer cells and to revert these cells to a state of non-malignancy. Here, we investigated the relationship between cellular differentiation and malignant progression by the fusion of four independent mouse cancer cell lines from different tissues, each with differing developmental potentials, to pluripotent mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells. Fusion was accompanied by loss of differentiated properties of the four parental cancer cell lines and concomitant emergence of pluripotency, demonstrating the feasibility to reprogram the malignant and differentiative properties of cancer cells. However, the original malignant and differentiative phenotypes re-emerge upon withdrawal of the fused cells from the embryonic environment in which they were maintained. cDNA array analysis of the malignant hepatoma progression implicated a role for Foxa1, and silencing Foxa1 prevented the re-emergence of malignant and differentiation-associated gene expression. Our findings support the hypothesis that tumor progression results from deregulation of stem cells, and our approach provides a strategy to analyze possible mechanisms in the cancer initiation.