Cancer stem cells regulate cancer-associated fibroblasts via activation of Hedgehog signaling in mammary gland tumors


  • G. Valenti
  • H.M. Quinn
  • G.J.J.E. Heynen
  • L. Lan
  • J.D. Holland
  • R. Vogel
  • A. Wulf-Goldenberg
  • W. Birchmeier


  • Cancer Research


  • Canc Res 77 (8): 2134-2147


  • Many tumors display intracellular heterogeneity, with subsets of cancer stem cells (CSC) that sustain tumor growth, recurrence, and therapy resistance. Cancer associated fibroblasts (CAF) have been shown to support and regulate CSC function. Here we investigated the interactions between CSCs and CAFs in mammary gland tumors driven by combined activation of Wnt/{beta}-catenin and Hgf/Met signaling in mouse mammary epithelial cells. In this setting, CSCs secreted the hedgehog ligand SHH, which regulated CAFs via paracrine activation of Hedgehog signaling. CAFs subsequently secreted factors that promoted expansion and self-renewal of CSCs. In vivo treatment of tumors with the Hedgehog inhibitor vismodegib reduced CAF and CSC expansion, resulting in an overall delay of tumor formation. Our results identify a novel intracellular signaling module that synergistically regulates CAFs and CSCs. Targeting CAFs with Hedgehog inhibitors may offer a novel therapeutic strategy against breast cancer.