Tumor-initiating cells are responsible for tumor mainte- nance and relapse in solid and hematologic cancers. Although tumor-initiating cells were initially believed to be mainly quiescent, rapidly proliferating tumorigenic cells were found in breast cancer. In colon cancer, the prolifera- tive activity of the tumorigenic population has not been defined, although it represents an essential parameter for the development of more effective therapeutic strategies. Here, we show that tumorigenic colon cancer cells can be found in a rapidly proliferating state in vitro and in vivo, both in human tumors and mouse xenografts. Inhibitors of polo-like kinase1 (Plk1), a mitotic kinase essential for cell prolifera- tion, demonstrated maximal efficiency over other targeted compounds and chemotherapeutic agents in inducing death of colon cancer-initiating cells in vitro. In vivo, Plk1 inhibi- tors killed CD1331 colon cancer cells leading to complete growth arrest of colon cancer stem cell-derived xenografts, whereas chemotherapeutic agents only slowed tumor pro- gression. While chemotherapy treatment increased CD1331 cell proliferation, treatment with Plk1 inhibitors eliminated all proliferating tumor-initiating cells. Quiescent CD1331 cells that survived the treatment with Plk1 inhibitors could be killed by subsequent Plk1 inhibition when they exited from quiescence. Altogether, these results provide a new insight into the proliferative status of colon tumor-initiating cells both in basal conditions and in response to therapy and indicate Plk1 inhibitors as potentially useful in the treatment of colorectal cancer.
- Cancer stem cells • Colorectal cancer • Cell proliferation • Cell cycle