Nature communications

Tryptophan derivatives regulate the transcription of Oct4 in stem-like cancer cells.

PMID 26059097


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-activated transcription factor that responds to environmental toxicants, is increasingly recognized as a key player in embryogenesis and tumorigenesis. Here we show that a variety of tryptophan derivatives that act as endogenous AhR ligands can affect the transcription level of the master pluripotency factor Oct4. Among them, ITE enhances the binding of the AhR to the promoter of Oct4 and suppresses its transcription. Reduction of endogenous ITE levels in cancer cells by tryptophan deprivation or hypoxia leads to Oct4 elevation, which can be reverted by administration with synthetic ITE. Consequently, synthetic ITE induces the differentiation of stem-like cancer cells and reduces their tumorigenic potential in both subcutaneous and orthotopic xenograft tumour models. Thus, our results reveal a role of tryptophan derivatives and the AhR signalling pathway in regulating cancer cell stemness and open a new therapeutic avenue to target stem-like cancer cells.