Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are increasingly considered to be responsible for tumor initiation, metastasis and drug resistance. The drug resistance mechanisms activated in CSCs have not been thoroughly investigated. Although neuropeptides such as vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) can promote tumor growth and activate antiapoptotic signaling in differentiated cancer cells, it is not known whether they can activate antiapoptotic mechanisms in CSCs. The objectives of this study are to unravel the cytoprotective effects of neuropeptides and identify antiapoptotic mechanisms activated by neuropeptides in response to anticancer drug treatment in CSCs. We enriched and purified CSCs (CD44+/high/CD24-/low or CD133+ population) from breast and prostate cancer cell lines, and demonstrated their stemness phenotype. Of the several neuropeptides tested, only VIP could protect CSCs from drug-induced apoptosis. A functional correlation was found between drug-induced apoptosis and dephosphorylation of proapoptotic Bcl2 family protein BAD. Similarly, VIP-induced cytoprotection correlated with BAD phosphorylation at Ser112 in CSCs. Using pharmacological inhibitors and dominant-negative proteins, we showed that VIP-induced cytoprotection and BAD phosphorylation are mediated via both Ras/MAPK and PKA pathways in CSCs of prostate cancer LNCaP and C4-2 cells, but only PKA signaling was involved in CSCs of DUVIPR (DU145 prostate cancer cells ectopically expressing VIP receptor) and breast cancer MCF7 cells. As each of these pathways partially control BAD phosphorylation at Ser112, both have to be inhibited to block the cytoprotective effects of VIP. Furthermore, VIP is unable to protect CSCs that express phosphorylation-deficient mutant-BAD, suggesting that BAD phosphorylation is essential. Thus, antiapoptotic signaling by VIP could be one of the drug resistance mechanisms by which CSCs escape from anticancer therapies. Our findings suggest the potential usefulness of VIP receptor inhibition to eliminate CSCs, and that targeting BAD might be an attractive strategy for development of novel therapeutics.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research