Notch pathway inhibition depletes stem-like cells and blocks engraftment in embryonal brain tumors

Xing Fan, William Matsui, Leila Khaki, Duncan Stearns, Jiong Chun, Yue Ming Li, Charles G. Eberhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Notch signaling pathway is required in both nonneoplastic neural stem cells and embryonal brain tumors, such as medulloblastoma, which are derived from such cells. We investigated the effects of Notch pathway inhibition on medulloblastoma growth using pharmacologic inhibitors of γ-secretase. Notch blockade suppressed expression of the pathway target Hes1 and caused cell cycle exit, apoptosis, and differentiation in medulloblastoma cell lines. Interestingly, viable populations of better-differentiated cells continued to grow when Notch activation was inhibited but were unable to efficiently form soft-agar colonies or tumor xenografts, suggesting that a cell fraction required for tumor propagation had been depleted. It has recently been hypothesized that a small population of stem-like cells within brain tumors is required for the long-term propagation of neoplastic growth and that CD133 expression and Hoechst dye exclusion (side population) can be used to prospectively identify such tumor-forming cells. We found that Notch blockade reduced the CD133-positive cell fraction almost 5-fold and totally abolished the side population, suggesting that the loss of tumorforming capacity could be due to the depletion of stem-like cells. Notch signaling levels were higher in the stem-like cell fraction, providing a potential mechanism for their increased sensitivity to inhibition of this pathway. We also observed that apoptotic rates following Notch blockade were almost 10-fold higher in primitive nestin-positive cells as compared with nestin-negative ones. Stem-like cells in brain tumors thus seem to be selectively vulnerable to agents inhibiting the Notch pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7445-7452
Number of pages8
JournalCancer Research
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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