The Epigenetic Influence of Tumor and Embryonic Microenvironments: How Different are They?

Abbott, D. E.; Bailey, C. M.; Postovit, L. M.; Seftor, E. A.; Margaryan, N.; Seftor, R. E.; Hendrix, M. J.

Cancer Microenviron. 2009 Mar 25; 1(1):13-21


The microenvironment is being increasingly recognized as a critical component in tumor progression and metastases. As such, the bi-directional signaling of extracellular mediators that promote tumor growth within the microenvironment is a focus of intense scrutiny. Interestingly, there are striking similarities between the phenotypes of aggressive tumor and embryonic stem cells, particularly with respect to specific signaling pathways underlying their intriguing plasticity. Here, we demonstrate the epigenetic influence of the hESC microenvironment on the reprogramming of aggressive melanoma cells using an innovative 3-D model. Specifically, our laboratory has previously demonstrated the redifferentiation of these melanoma cells to a more melanocyte-like phenotype (Postovit et al., Stem Cells 24(3):501-505, 2006), and now we show the loss of VE-Cadherin expression (indicative of a plastic vasculogenic phenotype) and the loss of Nodal expression (a plasticity stem cell marker) in tumor cells exposed to the hESC microenvironment. Further studies with the 3-D culture model revealed the epigenetic influence of aggressive melanoma cells on hESCs resulting in the down-regulation of plasticity markers and the emergence of phenotype-specific genes. Additional studies with the aggressive melanoma conditioned matrix microenvironment demonstrated the transdifferentiation of normal melanocytes into melanoma-like cells exhibiting a vasculogenic phenotype. Collectively, these studies have advanced our understanding of the epigenetic influence associated with the microenvironments of hESCs and aggressive melanoma cells, and shed new light on their therapeutic implications. Moreover, we have a better appreciation of the convergence of embryonic and tumorigenic signaling pathways that might stimulate further consideration of targeting Nodal in aggressive tumor cells resulting in a down-regulation of tumorigenic potential and plasticity.

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