PloS one

Curcumin suppresses crosstalk between colon cancer stem cells and stromal fibroblasts in the tumor microenvironment: potential role of EMT.

PMID 25238234


Interaction of stromal and tumor cells plays a dynamic role in initiating and enhancing carcinogenesis. In this study, we investigated the crosstalk between colorectal cancer (CRC) cells with stromal fibroblasts and the anti-cancer effects of curcumin and 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU), especially on cancer stem cell (CSC) survival in a 3D-co-culture model that mimics in vivo tumor microenvironment. Colon carcinoma cells HCT116 and MRC-5 fibroblasts were co-cultured in a monolayer or high density tumor microenvironment model in vitro with/without curcumin and/or 5-FU. Monolayer tumor microenvironment co-cultures supported intensive crosstalk between cancer cells and fibroblasts and enhanced up-regulation of metastatic active adhesion molecules (β1-integrin, ICAM-1), transforming growth factor-β signaling molecules (TGF-β3, p-Smad2), proliferation associated proteins (cyclin D1, Ki-67) and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) factor (vimentin) in HCT116 compared with tumor mono-cultures. High density tumor microenvironment co-cultures synergistically increased tumor-promoting factors (NF-κB, MMP-13), TGF-β3, favored CSC survival (characterized by up-regulation of CD133, CD44, ALDH1) and EMT-factors (increased vimentin and Slug, decreased E-cadherin) in HCT116 compared with high density HCT116 mono-cultures. Interestingly, this synergistic crosstalk was even more pronounced in the presence of 5-FU, but dramatically decreased in the presence of curcumin, inducing biochemical changes to mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET), thereby sensitizing CSCs to 5-FU treatment. Enrichment of CSCs, remarkable activation of tumor-promoting factors and EMT in high density co-culture highlights that the crosstalk in the tumor microenvironment plays an essential role in tumor development and progression, and this interaction appears to be mediated at least in part by TGF-β and EMT. Modulation of this synergistic crosstalk by curcumin might be a potential therapy for CRC and suppress metastasis.