Upregulation of CXCR4 is functionally crucial for maintenance of stemness in drug-resistant non-small cell lung cancer cells

M. J. Jung, J. K. Rho, Y. M. Kim, J. E. Jung, Y. B. Jin, Y. G. Ko, J. S. Lee, S. J. Lee, J. C. Lee, M. J. Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothesis of cancer stem cells has been proposed to explain the therapeutic failure in a variety of cancers including lung cancers. Previously, we demonstrated acquisition of epithelial-mesenchymal transition, a feature highly reminiscent of cancer stem-like cells, in gefitinib-resistant A549 cells (A549/GR). Here, we show that A549/GR cells contain a high proportion of CXCR4+ cells that are responsible for having high potential of self-renewal activity in vitro and tumorigenicity in vivo. A549/GR cells exhibited strong sphere-forming activity and high CXCR4 expression and SDF-1α secretion compared with parent cells. Pharmacological inhibition (AMD3100) and/or siRNA transfection targeting CXCR4 significantly suppressed sphere-forming activity in A549 and A549/GR cells, and in various non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines. A549/GR cells showed enhanced Akt, mTOR and STAT3 (Y705) phosphorylation. Pharmacological inhibition of phosphatidyl inositol 3-kinase or transfection with wild-type PTEN suppressed phosphorylation of Akt, mTOR and STAT3 (Y705), sphere formation, and CXCR4 expression in A549/GR cells, whereas mutant PTEN enhanced these events. Inhibition of STAT3 by WP1066 or siSTAT3 significantly suppressed the sphere formation, but not CXCR4 expression, indicating that STAT3 is a downstream effector of CXCR4-mediated signaling. FACS-sorted CXCR4+ A549/GR cells formed many large spheres, had self-renewal capacity, demonstrated radiation resistance in vitro and exhibited stronger tumorigenic potential in vivo than CXCR4- cells. Lentiviral-transduction of CXCR4 enhanced sphere formation and tumorigenicity in H460 and A549 cells, whereas introduction of siCXCR4 suppressed these activities in A549/GR cells. Our data indicate that CXCR4+ NSCLC cells are strong candidates for tumorigenic stem-like cancer cells that maintain stemness through a CXCR4-medated STAT3 pathway and provide a potential therapeutic target for eliminating these malignant cells in NSCLC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-221
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jan 10

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Mid-career Researcher Program through NRF grant (2009-0086438) and the Nuclear Research and Development Program of Korea Science and Engineering foundation funded by the Korean government (MEST) (2011-0030604).


  • CXCR4
  • PI3K/PTEN/Akt/mTOR signaling
  • STAT3 signaling
  • cancer stem cell
  • non-small cell lung cancer
  • tumorigenicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Upregulation of CXCR4 is functionally crucial for maintenance of stemness in drug-resistant non-small cell lung cancer cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this