Cancer Stem Cell Formation Induced and Regulated by Extracellular ATP and Stanniocalcin-1 in Human Lung Cancer Cells and Tumors

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Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are closely associated with metastasis and epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT). We previously reported that extracellular ATP (eATP) induces and regulates EMT in cancer cells. We recently found that the gene stanniocalcin 1 (STC1) is significantly upregulated by eATP in human non-small lung cancer (NSCLC) A549 cells; however, the relationships among eATP, CSCs, and STC1 were largely unknown. In this study, we performed gene knockdown and knockout, and a wide variety of functional assays to determine if and how eATP and STC1 induce CSCs in NSCLC A549 and H1299 cells. Our data show that, in both cultured cells and tumors, eATP increased the number of CSCs in the cancer cell population and upregulated CSC-related genes and protein markers. STC1 deletion led to drastically slower cell and tumor growth, reduced intracellular ATP levels and CSC markers, and metabolically shifted STC1-deficient cells from an energetic state to a quiescent state. These findings indicate that eATP induces and regulates CSCs at transcriptional, translational, and metabolic levels, and these activities are mediated through STC1 via mitochondria-associated ATP synthesis. These novel findings offer insights into eATP-induced CSCs and identify new targets for inhibiting CSCs.