Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are involved in the pathology of various tumors, including colorectal cancer (CRC). The crosstalk between carcinoma- associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and cancer cells in the tumor microenvironment promotes tumor development and confers chemoresistance. In this study, we further investigated the underlying tumor-promoting roles of CAFs and the molecular mediators involved in these processes.
Methods: The AOM/DSS-induced colitis-associated cancer (CAC) mouse model was established, and RNA sequencing was performed. Small interfering RNA (siRNA) sequences were used to knock down H19. Cell apoptosis was measured by flow cytometry. SW480 cells with H19 stably knocked down were used to establish a xenograft model. The indicated protein levels in xenograft tumor tissues were confirmed by immunohistochemistry assay, and cell apoptosis was analyzed by TUNEL apoptosis assay. RNA-FISH and immunofluorescence assays were performed to assess the expression of H19 in tumor stroma and cancer nests. The AldeRed ALDH detection assay was performed to detect intracellular aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) enzyme activity. Isolated exosomes were identified by transmission electron microscopy, nanoparticle tracking and Western blotting.
Results: H19 was highly expressed in the tumor tissues of CAC mice compared with the expression in normal colon tissues. The up-regulation of H19 was also confirmed in CRC patient samples at different tumor node metastasis (TNM) stages. Moreover, H19 was associated with the stemness of colorectal cancer stem cells (CSCs) in CRC specimens. H19 promoted the stemness of CSCs and increased the frequency of tumor-initiating cells. RNA-FISH showed higher expression of H19 in tumor stroma than in cancer nests. Of note, H19 was enriched in CAF-derived conditioned medium and exosomes, which in turn promoted the stemness of CSCs and the chemoresistance of CRC cells in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, H19 activated theβ-catenin pathway via acting as a competing endogenous RNA sponge for miR-141 in CRC, while miR-141 significantly inhibited the stemness of CRC cells.
Conclusion: CAFs promote the stemness and chemoresistance of CRC by transferring exosomal H19. H19 activated the β-catenin pathway via acting as a competing endogenous RNA sponge for miR-141, while miR-141 inhibited the stemness of CRC cells. Our findings indicate that H19 expressed by CAFs of the colorectal tumor stroma contributes to tumor development and chemoresistance.
Keywords: H19, CRC, CAFs, stemness, chemoresistance