Turning Hepatic Cancer Stem Cells Inside Out - A Deeper Understanding through Multiple Perspectives

  • Chan, Lok-Hei (Department of Anatomy, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong) ;
  • Luk, Steve T. (Department of Anatomy, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong) ;
  • Ma, Stephanie (Department of Anatomy, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong)
  • Received : 2014.12.30
  • Accepted : 2015.01.02
  • Published : 2015.03.31


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a highly malignant disease and the third leading cause of all cancer mortalities worldwide, often responses poorly to current treatments and results in dismal outcomes due to frequent chemoresistance and tumor relapse. The heterogeneity of HCC is an important attribute of the disease. It is the outcome of many factors, including the cross-talk between tumor cells within the tumor microenvironment and the acquisition and accumulation of genetic and epigenetic alterations in tumor cells. In addition, there is accumulating evidence in recent years to show that the malignancy of HCC can be attributed partly to the presence of cancer stem cell (CSC). CSCs are capable to self-renew, differentiate and initiate tumor formation. The regulation of the stem cell-like properties by several important signaling pathways have been found to endow the tumor cells with an increased level of tumorigenicity, chemoresistance, and metastatic ability. In this review, we will discuss the recent findings on hepatic CSCs, with special emphasis on their putative origins, relationship with hepatitis viruses, regulatory signaling networks, tumor microenvironment, and how these factors control the stemness of hepatic CSCs. We will also discuss some novel therapeutic strategies targeted at hepatic CSCs for combating HCC and perspectives of future investigation.


liver cancer;microenvironment;signaling;therapeutic targeting;tumor-initiating cells


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