A novel theory in the field of tumor biology postulates that cancer growth is driven by a population of stem-like cells, called tumor-initiating cells (TICs). We previously identified a TIC population derived from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) that is characterized by membrane expression of CD133. Here, we describe a novel mechanism by which these cells mediate tumor growth and angiogenesis by systematic comparison of the gene expression profiles between sorted CD133 liver subpopulations through genome-wide microarray analysis. A significantly dysregulated interleukin-8 (IL-8) signaling network was identified in CD133+ liver TICs obtained from HCC clinical samples and cell lines. IL-8 was found to be overexpressed at both the genomic and proteomic levels in CD133+ cells isolated from HCC cell lines or clinical samples. Functional studies found enhanced IL-8 secretion in CD133+ liver TICs to exhibit a greater ability to self-renew, induce tumor angiogenesis, and initiate tumors. In further support of these observations, IL-8 repression in CD133+ liver TICs by knockdown or neutralizing antibody abolished these effects. Subsequent studies of the IL-8 functional network identified neurotensin (NTS) and CXCL1 to be preferentially expressed in CD133+ liver TICs. Addition of exogenous NTS resulted in concomitant up-regulation of IL-8 and CXCL1 with simultaneous activation of p-ERK1/2 and RAF-1, both key components of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. Enhanced IL-8 secretion by CD133+ liver TICs can in turn activate an IL-8-dependent feedback loop that signals through the MAPK pathway. Further, in its role as a liver TIC marker CD133 also plays a functional part in regulating tumorigenesis of liver TICs by way of regulating NTS, IL-8, CXCL1, and MAPK signaling.Conclusion:
CD133+ liver TICs promote angiogenesis, tumorigenesis, and self-renewal through NTS-induced activation of the IL-8 signaling cascade.