BACKGROUND: Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), with high mortality rates, is one of the most diagnosed head and neck cancers. Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and the generation of cancer stem cells (CSCs) are two keys for therapy-resistance, relapse, and distant metastasis. Accumulating evidence indicates that aberrantly expressed cluster of differentiation (CD)47 is associated with cell-death evasion and metastasis; however, the role of CD47 in the generation of CSCs in OSCC is not clear. METHODS: We investigated the functional roles of CD47 in OSCC cell lines SAS, TW2.6, HSC-3, and FaDu using the bioinformatics approach, immunoblotting, immunofluorescence staining, and assays for cellular migration, invasion, colony, and orosphere formation, as well as radiosensitivity. RESULTS: We demonstrated increased expression of CD47 in OSCC patients was associated with an estimated poorly survival disadvantage (p = 0.0391) and positively correlated with the expression of pluripotency factors. Silencing CD47 significantly suppressed cell viability and orosphere formation, accompanied by a downregulated expression of CD133, SRY-Box transcription factor 2 (SOX2), octamer-binding transcription factor 4 (OCT4), and c-Myc. In addition, CD47-silenced OSCC cells showed reduced EMT, migration, and clonogenicity reflected by increased E-cadherin and decreased vimentin, Slug, Snail, and N-cadherin expression. CONCLUSION: Of therapeutic relevance, CD47 knockdown enhanced the anti-OSCC effect of radiotherapy. Collectively, we showed an increased CD47 expression promoted the generation of CSCs and malignant OSCC phenotypes. Silencing CD47, in combination with radiation, could provide an alternative and improved therapeutic efficacy for OSCC patients.
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