Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are considered to be the origin of ovarian cancer (OC) development, recurrence, and chemoresistance. We investigated changes in expression levels of the CSC biomarker, cluster of differentiation 133 (CD133), from primary OC cell lines to induction of CSC-spheres in an attempt to explore the mechanisms related to modulation of stemness, drug resistance, and tumorigenesis in CSCs, thus facilitating the search for new therapeutics for OC. The effect of CD133 overexpression on the induction of CSC properties was evaluated by sphere-forming assays, RT-qPCR, flow cytometry, cell viability assays, and in vivo xenograft experiments. Moreover, the potential signaling molecules that participate in CD133 maintenance of stemness were screened by RNA-sequencing. CD133 expression was upregulated during OCSC induction and chemotherapeutic drug treatment over time, which increased the expressions of stemness-related markers (SOX2, OCT4, and Nanog). CD133 overexpression also promoted tumorigenesis in NOD/SCID mice. Several signalings were controlled by CD133 spheres, including extracellular matrix receptor interactions, chemokine signaling, and Wnt signaling, all of which promote cell survival and cell cycle progression. Our findings suggest that CD133 possesses the ability to maintain functional stemness and tumorigenesis of OCSCs by promoting cell survival signaling and may serve as a potential target for stem cell-targeted therapy of OC.
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