Ovarian cancer stem cells (OCSCs) contribute to the poor prognosis of ovarian cancer. Involvement of the androgen receptor (AR) in the malignant behaviors of other tumors has been reported. However, whether AR associates with Nanog (a stem cell marker) and participates in OCSC functions remain unclear. In this study, we investigated the interaction of Nanog with AR and examined whether this interaction induced stem-like properties in ovarian cancer cells.
AR and Nanog expression in ovarian tumors was evaluated. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 system, we constructed a Nanog green fluorescent protein (GFP) marker cell model to investigate the expression and co-localization of Nanog and AR. Then, we examined the effect of androgen on the Nanog promoter in ovarian cancer cell lines (A2780 and SKOV3). After androgen or anti-androgen treatment, cell proliferation, migration, sphere formation, colony formation and tumorigenesis were assessed in vitro and in vivo.
Both AR and Nanog expression were obviously high in ovarian tumors. Our results showed that Nanog expression was correlated with AR expression. The androgen 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) activated Nanog promoter transcription. Meanwhile, Nanog GFP-positive cells treated with DHT exhibited higher levels of proliferation, migration, sphere formation and colony formation. We also observed that the tumorigenesis of Nanog GFP-positive cells was significantly higher than that of the GFP-negative cells. Xenografts of Nanog GFP-positive cells showed significant differences when treated with androgen or anti-androgen drugs in vivo.
The interaction of Nanog with the AR signaling axis might induce or contribute to OCSC regulation. In addition, androgen might promote stemness characteristics in ovarian cancer cells by activating the Nanog promoter. This finding merits further study because it may provide a new understanding of OCSC regulation from a hormone perspective and lead to the reevaluation of stem cell therapy for ovarian cancer.