Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Molecular Biology, Microbiology and Biochemistry

First Advisor

Nie, Daotai


Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting one of every six men in United States. It is increasingly appreciated that tumor or cancer stem cells are the cells responsible for initiating tumor formation and therefore should be targeted for eradication in cancer treatment. But the mechanism involved in the acquisition of unlimited self-renewal and tumor initiation by cancer stem cells is unknown. Nanog, along with Oct3/4 and Sox-2, constitute the core transcriptional circuitry for the maintenance of stemness in embryonic stem cells. Herein we report that Nanog expression was detected at mRNA and protein levels in prostate cancer cells. The Nanog-expressing LNCaP-T and DU145 cells were enriched by infection with lentiviruses expressing GFP under the control of Nanog promoter. The Nanog-enriched prostate cancer cells had stronger expressions of stem and progenitor cell surface markers, including CD44 and CD133, when compared with those in the control group. Colony formation assay found that the Nanog-enriched LNCaP-T and DU145 cells formed more holoclones and prosta-spheres, which contained more self-renewing cells, than the control cells did. On the other hand, knockdown of Nanog in DU145 or LNCaP-T cells, via shRNAs, reduced their ability to form holoclones. Instead, most clones derived were meroclone and paraclones as result of increased differentiation and senescence due to knockdown of Nanog. When injected into mice, Nanog-enriched DU145 cells were found to possess increased tumorigenic potentials when compared to the vector controls. On the other hand, LNCaP-T cells with Nanog knocked down did not form tumors, while the vector controls readily formed tumors. Taken together, our data suggest an essential role for Nanog in the self-renewal and tumor initiation of prostate cancer cells. Chemotherapy is the major salvage therapeutic modality available for the patients with advanced cancers. However, drug resistance by some prostate cancer cells is a major barrier to efficacious chemotherapy. It has been increasingly appreciated that cancer stem cells are responsible for resistance to chemo- or radio-therapy, in addition to tumor initiation. However, the mechanisms involved remain unknown. In this study, we examined whether Nanog plays an essential role of Nanog in resistance to chemotherapy. In the surviving fractions of prostate cancer cells, we found increased levels of Nanog protein when compared to the cells treated with solvent control. To determine the role of Nanog in resistance of prostate cancer cells, we marked and enriched Nanog-expressing prostate cancer DU145 and LNCaP-T cells using a reporter gene under control of 2.5 kb hNanog1 promoter. When compared to the control, the prospectively enriched Nanog-expressing cells presented increased resistance to Taxol, vinblastine, and doxorubicin. Profiling of genes in drug resistance and metabolism revealed a marked increase in the mRNA level of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) efflux transporters B1 and G2 in tumor cells enriched with endogenous Nanog expression. The increased expression of ABCB1 and ABCG2 at protein levels in Nanog expressing cells was confirmed by Western blot and immunocytochemistry. Inhibition of ABCB1 activities sensitized Nanog expressing cells toward Taxol and vinblastine, and to less extent, doxorubicin. Blocking of ABCG2 activity sensitized Nanog expressing cells toward doxorubicin, but not Taxol and vinblastine. In addition, the tumor cells enriched with Nanog expression showed reduced apoptosis in response to Taxol treatment. Interestingly, Nanog-enriched prostate carcinoma cells displayed aberrantly activated â-catenin signaling, which is potentially associated with their increased chemo-resistant ability as well as the increased acquisition of epithelial to mesenchymal transition. In summary, Nanog is expressed in prostate cancer cells, especially in those positive for stem/progenitor markers. Enrichment of Nanog expressing cells led to enrichment of tumor cells with increased tumor initiating ability and increased resistance toward chemotherapy. Knockdown of Nanog reduces tumor initiating ability of prostate cancer cells and further sensitizes them toward chemotherapy. The gain-of-function and loss-of-function studies suggest an essential role of Nanog for prostate cancer cells to initiate tumor formation and resist chemotherapy.




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