Stem Cell Reviews and Reports

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 292–306 | Cite as

The Role of Human Aldehyde Dehydrogenase in Normal and Cancer Stem Cells

  • Irene Ma
  • Alison L. AllanEmail author


Normal stem cells and cancer stem cells (CSCs) share similar properties, in that both have the capacity to self-renew and differentiate into multiple cell types. In both the normal stem cell and cancer stem cell fields, there has been a great need for a universal marker that can effectively identify and isolate these rare populations of cells in order to characterize them and use this information for research and therapeutic purposes. Currently, it would appear that certain isoenzymes of the aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) superfamily may be able to fulfill this role as a marker for both normal and cancer stem cells. ALDH has been identified as an important enzyme in the protection of normal hematopoietic stem cells, and is now also widely used as a marker to identify and isolate various types of normal stem cells and CSCs. In addition, emerging evidence suggests that ALDH1 is not only a marker for stem cells, but may also play important functional roles related to self-protection, differentiation, and expansion. This comprehensive review discusses the role that ALDH plays in normal stem cells and CSCs, with focus on ALDH1 and ALDH3A1. Discrepancies in the functional themes between cell types and future perspectives for therapeutic applications will also be discussed.


Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) Stem cells Cancer stem cells (CSCs) Retinoic acid (RA) signaling All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) Self-protection Differentiation Expansion 



We thank members of our laboratory and our collaborators for their research work and helpful discussions. The authors’ research on ALDH and CSCs is supported by research grants from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (#08NOV230), and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (#13199) (to ALA). IM is the recipient of a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Strategic Training Program Scholarship and a Translational Breast Cancer Scholarship through the London Regional Cancer Program. ALA is supported by a CIHR New Investigator Award and an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Schulich School of Medicine and DentistryUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Oncology, Schulich School of Medicine and DentistryUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  3. 3.London Regional Cancer ProgramLondon Health Sciences CentreLondonCanada

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