Tumor quiescence: elevating SOX2 in diverse tumor cell types downregulates a broad spectrum of the cell cycle machinery and inhibits tumor growth
Background Quiescent tumor cells pose a major clinical challenge due to their ability to resist conventional chemotherapies and to drive tumor recurrence. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that promote quiescence of tumor cells could help identify therapies to eliminate these cells. Significantly, recent studies have determined that the function of SOX2 in cancer cells is highly dose dependent. Specifically, SOX2 levels in tumor cells are optimized to promote tumor growth: knocking down or
... elevating SOX2 inhibits proliferation. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that quiescent tumor cells express higher levels of SOX2 compared to adjacent proliferating cells. Currently, the mechanisms through which elevated levels of SOX2 restrict tumor cell proliferation have not been characterized. Methods To understand how elevated levels of SOX2 restrict the proliferation of tumor cells, we engineered diverse types of tumor cells for inducible overexpression of SOX2. Using these cells, we examined the effects of elevating SOX2 on their proliferation, both in vitro and in vivo. In addition, we examined how elevating SOX2 influences their expression of cyclins, cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), and p27Kip1. Results Elevating SOX2 in diverse tumor cell types led to growth inhibition in vitro. Significantly, elevating SOX2 in vivo in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, medulloblastoma, and prostate cancer cells induced a reversible state of tumor growth arrest. In all three tumor types, elevation of SOX2 in vivo quickly halted tumor growth. Remarkably, tumor growth resumed rapidly when SOX2 returned to endogenous levels. We also determined that elevation of SOX2 in six tumor cell lines decreased the levels of cyclins and CDKs that control each phase of the cell cycle, while upregulating p27Kip1. Conclusions Our findings indicate that elevating SOX2 above endogenous levels in a diverse set of tumor cell types leads to growth inhibition both in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, our findings indicate that SOX2 can function as a master regulator by controlling the expression of a broad spectrum of cell cycle machinery. Importantly, our SOX2-inducible tumor studies provide a novel model system for investigating the molecular mechanisms by which elevated levels of SOX2 restrict cell proliferation and tumor growth.