Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Arsenic-specific stem cell selection during malignant transformation.

PMID 20339138


Arsenic is a carcinogen that targets the urogenital system, including the prostate. Although the mechanisms for arsenic-induced carcinogenesis are undefined, arsenic drives overaccumulation of stem cells and cancer stem cells (CSCs) in vivo and in vitro, indicating that these cells are a key target population. Disruption of stem cell population dynamics may be critical to acquisition of cancer phenotype. We tested the hypothesis that prostate stem cells have a survival selection advantage during arsenic exposure that favors their accumulation and facilitates their malignant transformation. Innate and acquired resistance to acute (24-72 hours of exposure) and chronic (6 weeks of exposure) arsenite-induced cytolethality and apoptosis were assessed in a human prostate stem cell line (WPE-stem) and the mature parental cell line (RWPE-1). Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and/or Western blot analysis was used to measure the expression of apoptosis-, stress-, and arsenic-related genes. Arsenic-, cadmium-, and N-methyl-N-nitrosourea-induced isogenic malignant transformants of RWPE-1 cells were compared for acquisition of CSC-like qualities by holoclone and sphere formation assays, growth in soft agar, and expression of CSC biomarkers. All statistical tests were two-sided. WPE-stem cells showed innate resistance to arsenic-induced cytolethality (arsenite concentration lethal to 50% of the cells [LC(50)] = 32.4 microM, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 31.5 to 33.3 muM) and apoptosis compared with parental RWPE-1 cells (LC(50) = 10.4 muM, 95% CI = 7.4 to 13.4 microM). Compared with RWPE-1 cells, WPE-stem cells showed noticeably higher expression of antiapoptotic (ie, BCL2, MT), stress-related (ie, NFE2L2, SOD1, PRODH), and arsenic adaptation (ie, ABCC1, GSTP1) factors and noticeably lower expression of proapoptotic factors (ie, BAX, caspases 3, 7, 8, and 9). WPE-stem cells also showed hyper-adaptability to chronic arsenite exposure (5 microM, 6 weeks) compared with RWPE-1 cells (LC(50) = 94.7 vs 32.1 microM, difference = 62.6 muM, 95% CI = 53.3 to 71.9 muM) at levels that in previous work induced a malignant phenotype in RWPE-1 after 30 weeks of exposure. Quantification of CSC-like cells in isogenic RWPE-1 transformants showed that marked overproduction was unique to a malignant phenotype acquired in response to arsenic exposure but not in response to cadmium or N-methyl-N-nitrosourea exposure. An apparent stem cell survival advantage with regard to arsenic causes selection during malignant transformation that manifests itself as an overabundance of CSC-like cells specifically after arsenic-driven acquisition of malignant phenotype. The increased resistance to apoptosis and arsenite hyper-adaptability of WPE-stem cells suggests that arsenite transformation of RWPE-1 cells involves an increase in the number of CSC-like cells.