PloS one

Inhibitor of DNA Binding 4 (ID4) is highly expressed in human melanoma tissues and may function to restrict normal differentiation of melanoma cells.

PMID 25642713


Melanoma tissues and cell lines are heterogeneous, and include cells with invasive, proliferative, stem cell-like, and differentiated properties. Such heterogeneity likely contributes to the aggressiveness of the disease and resistance to therapy. One model suggests that heterogeneity arises from rare cancer stem cells (CSCs) that produce distinct cancer cell lineages. Another model suggests that heterogeneity arises through reversible cellular plasticity, or phenotype-switching. Recent work indicates that phenotype-switching may include the ability of cancer cells to dedifferentiate to a stem cell-like state. We set out to investigate the phenotype-switching capabilities of melanoma cells, and used unbiased methods to identify genes that may control such switching. We developed a system to reversibly synchronize melanoma cells between 2D-monolayer and 3D-stem cell-like growth states. Melanoma cells maintained in the stem cell-like state showed a striking upregulation of a gene set related to development and neural stem cell biology, which included SRY-box 2 (SOX2) and Inhibitor of DNA Binding 4 (ID4). A gene set related to cancer cell motility and invasiveness was concomitantly downregulated. Intense and pervasive ID4 protein expression was detected in human melanoma tissue samples, suggesting disease relevance for this protein. SiRNA knockdown of ID4 inhibited switching from monolayer to 3D-stem cell-like growth, and instead promoted switching to a highly differentiated, neuronal-like morphology. We suggest that ID4 is upregulated in melanoma as part of a stem cell-like program that facilitates further adaptive plasticity. ID4 may contribute to disease by preventing stem cell-like melanoma cells from progressing to a normal differentiated state. This interpretation is guided by the known role of ID4 as a differentiation inhibitor during normal development. The melanoma stem cell-like state may be protected by factors such as ID4, thereby potentially identifying a new therapeutic vulnerability to drive differentiation to the normal cell phenotype.

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