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01.12.2012 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2012 Open Access

Molecular Cancer 1/2012

IL-1β promotes stemness and invasiveness of colon cancer cells through Zeb1 activation

Molecular Cancer > Ausgabe 1/2012
Yijing Li, Lei Wang, Loretta Pappan, Amy Galliher-Beckley, Jishu Shi
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1476-4598-11-87) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The author(s) declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

YL, LW, and JS designed the experiments. YL, LW, LP, and AGB performed experiments. LW, AGB, LP, and JS wrote the manuscript. All authors approved the final draft of this manuscript.



IL-1β is a pleiotropic pro-inflammatory cytokine and its up-regulation is closely associated with various cancers including gastrointestinal tumors. However, it remains unclear how IL-1β may contribute to the initiation and development of these inflammation-associated cancers. Here we investigated the role of IL-1β in colon cancer stem cell (CSC) development.


Using self-renewal assay, soft-agar assay, invasion assay, real-time PCR analysis, immunoblot assay and shRNA knockdown, we determined the effects of IL-1β on cancer stem cell development and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in human primary colon cancer cells and colon cancer cell line HCT-116.


We found that IL-1β can increase sphere-forming capability of colon cancer cells in serum-free medium. IL-1β-induced spheres displayed an up-regulation of stemness factor genes (Bmi1 and Nestin) and increased drug resistance, hallmarks of CSCs. Importantly, expression of EMT activator Zeb1 was increased in IL-1β-induced spheres, indicating that there might be a close association between EMT and IL-1β-induced CSC self-renewal. Indeed, IL-1β treatment led to EMT of colon cancer cells with loss of E-cadherin, up-regulation of Zeb1, and gain of the mesenchymal phenotype. Furthermore, shRNA-mediated knockdown of Zeb1 in HCT-116 cells reversed IL-1β-induced EMT and stem cell formation.


Our findings indicate that IL-1β may promote colon tumor growth and invasion through activation of CSC self-renewal and EMT, and Zeb1 plays a critical role in these two processes. Thus, IL-1β and Zeb1 might be new therapeutic targets against colon cancer stem cells.
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