Late diagnosis, low therapeutic response, and metastasis are accountable for poor 5-year survival rate of OSCC. These failures are attributed to the existence of “cancer stem cell (CSC)” subpopulation. Hence, it is necessary to identify and understand the mechanism of CSCs in tumor development, metastasis, and chemotherapeutic response. Propelling evidences suggest that microRNA (miRNA)-mediated regulation and cytokines of tumor microenvironment have the ability to modulate CSC signalling pathway; however, their exact mechanism needs to be elucidated. Thus, in this study, we characterized CSC markers and highlighted the miRNA dynamics and cytokine profile regulating these CSCs in a pathway-dependent manner. Our results demonstrated CD44+ subpopulation as tumor-initiating cells with self-renewal capability, tumorigenic growth potential and intrinsic chemoresistance. These tumors exhibited increased expression of CSC markers (CD44v3, CD44v6, Nanog, and Bmi1) and significantly reduced expression of PTEN and ATM in OSCC patients. Pathway analysis of these CSC markers demonstrated a prospective pathway regulated by miRNA and cytokine network. On analyzing these modulators, we observed decreased expression of miRNA542-3p, miRNA34a and miRNA9, and significant upregulation of miRNA21, thus forming an unexplored axis. Cytokine profiling revealed significantly increased levels of IL-6 and IL-8 compared to normals and demonstrated their strong association with CD44v6. Collectively, this study indicates that miR5423p and miR34a targets the CD44v6-Nanog-PTEN axis, thus playing a vital role in regulating the CSC properties. Furthermore, we speculate an impinging role of cytokines IL-6 and IL-8 in regulating this CSC-mediated pathway which can have prognostic and therapeutic implications.
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We thank Dr. Hemangini Vora (Head of Immunohistochemistry Division) for their excellent technical assistance for flow cytometry analysis. We are grateful to The Gujarat Cancer Society for their financial assistance.
Compliance with ethical standards
This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board and Ethics Committee at The Gujarat Cancer Research Institute.
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