Intratumoral heterogeneity is tightly associated with the failure of anticancer treatment modalities including conventional chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and molecularly targeted therapy. Such heterogeneity is generated in an evolutionary manner not only as a result of genetic alterations but also by the presence of cancer stem cells (CSCs). CSCs are proposed to exist at the top of a tumor cell hierarchy and are undifferentiated tumor cells that manifest enhanced tumorigenic and metastatic potential, self-renewal capacity, and therapeutic resistance. Properties that contribute to the robustness of CSCs include the abilities to withstand redox stress, to rapidly repair damaged DNA, to adapt to a hyperinflammatory or hyponutritious tumor microenvironment, and to expel anticancer drugs by the action of ATP-binding cassette transporters as well as plasticity with regard to the transition between dormant CSC and transit-amplifying progenitor cell phenotypes. In addition, CSCs manifest the phenomenon of metabolic reprogramming, which is essential for maintenance of their self-renewal potential and their ability to adapt to changes in the tumor microenvironment. Elucidation of the molecular underpinnings of these biological features of CSCs is key to the development of novel anticancer therapies. In this review, we highlight the pathological relevance of CSCs in terms of their hallmarks and identification, the properties of their niche—both in primary tumors and at potential sites of metastasis—and their resistance to oxidative stress dependent on system xc (−).
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biomedical Engineering
- Developmental Biology