Heat shock proteins in cancer stem cell maintenance: A potential therapeutic target?

Giacomo Lettini, Silvia Lepore, Fabiana Crispo, Lorenza Sisinni, Franca Esposito, Matteo Landriscina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a subpopulation of tumor cells with unlimited self-renewal capability, multilineage differentiation potential and long-term tumor repopulation capacity. CSCs reside in anatomically distinct regions within the tumor microenvironment, called niches, and this favors the maintenance of CSC properties and preserves their phenotypic plasticity. Indeed, CSCs are characterized by a flexible state based on their capacity to interconvert between a differentiated and a stem-like phenotype, and this depends on the activation of adaptive mechanisms in response to different environmental conditions. Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) are molecular chaperones, upregulated upon cell exposure to several stress conditions and are responsible for normal maturation, localization and activity of intra and extracellular proteins. Noteworthy, HSPs play a central role in several cellular processes involved in tumor initiation and progression (i.e. cell viability, resistance to apoptosis, stress conditions and drug therapy, EMT, bioenergetics, invasiveness, metastasis formation) and, thus, are widely considered potential molecular targets. Furthermore, much evidence suggests a key regulatory function for HSPs in CSC maintenance and their upregulation has been proposed as a mechanism used by CSCs to adapt to unfavorable environmental conditions, such as nutrient deprivation, hypoxia, inflammation. This review discusses the relevance of HSPs in CSC biology, highlighting their role as novel potential molecular targets to develop anticancer strategies aimed at CSC targeting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18153
JournalHistology and Histopathology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jul 19 2019


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