Expression of the Stem Cell Marker, Nanog, in Human Endometrial Adenocarcinoma

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The embryonic stem cell self-renewal gene, Nanog, has been shown to be expressed in several tumor types and to regulate tumor development. The aim of this study was to carry out a detailed analysis of Nanog expression in human endometrial adenocarcinoma (EAC). Immunohistochemical analysis and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction were used to characterize Nanog, Sox2, and Oct4 expression in tissue arrays containing EAC, benign endometrium samples, and tumorosphere cells. Tumorosphere formation of EAC-derived cells in the stem cell culture medium was also analyzed. Nanog expression was then analyzed in secondary tumors initiated by the injection of tumorospheres or tumorosphere-derived differentiated cells into 15 female nude mice. Apoptosis and cell proliferation were detected in the fluorescence-activated cell sorter and 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazolyl-2)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide experiments, respectively. The Nanog protein was expressed in a majority of EAC samples (45 of 55, 81.8%), but not in benign endometrium samples (0 of 26, 0.0%). Oct4 and Sox2 were also commonly expressed in EAC samples (42 of 55, 76.4% and 39 of 55, 70.9%, respectively). Subsets of cancer cells from all EAC samples (15 of 15, 100%) exhibited the capacity to form Nanog-positive tumorospheres. The tumorospheres also expressed Nanog, Oct4, and Sox2 mRNA and showed a higher proliferation potential than differentiated cells. All 15 mice that were injected with tumorosphere cell-formed tumors, whereas only 3 of 15 mice injected with differentiated cells derived from tumorospheres developed tumors. All secondary xenograft tumors still expressed Nanog protein and Nanog, Oct4, and Sox2 mRNA, and had higher proliferation and lower apostosis than did differentiated cells. Overexpression of Nanog in EACs suggests that Nanog may represent a potential therapeutic target for EAC. In addition, Nanog may be useful as a biomarker in an immunohistochemical panel to differentiate between EAC and benign endometrial tissues. The expression of Nanog in tumorospheres may be indicative of the presence of a population of endometrial cancer stem cells, and its expression in xenograft tumors suggests that Nanog may also be associated with tumor metastasis.

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