Investigating the effects of aspirin on cell invasion, epithelial-mesenchymal transition and cancer stem cell population in colorectal cancer
Dunbar, Karen Jane
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the fourth most common cause of cancer related deaths in the UK with the prognosis dependent on the degree of tumour invasion and presence of metastasis at diagnosis. An important step in the invasion and metastasis of solid tumours is the loss of cell-cell junctions and the acquirement of a more motile mesenchymal phenotype which is facilitated by the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The presence of EMT is linked with a more aggressive, invasive tumour and subsequent poor prognosis. In addition to roles in motility and invasion, EMT can induce a cancer stem cell phenotype in a subset of tumour cells. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a subpopulation of cells capable of self-renewal and maintaining a cellular population whilst displaying increased therapeutic resistance. Induction of EMT and CSCs can be regulated by common signalling pathways with expression of EMT transcription factors inducing CSCs expression. Understanding the signalling pathways regulating EMT and CSC formation in cancer is important for preventing of metastasis and combating therapeutic resistance. Aspirin’s role in cancer prevention has been established for a number of years with aspirin treatment reducing the incidence of CRC. Recently, evidence has emerged suggesting aspirin treatment may have post-diagnosis benefits and increase survival rates of CRC patients. A potential mechanism for the post-diagnosis benefit of aspirin is the inhibition of EMT and CSC formation which both facilitate tumour progression and metastasis. Aspirin has been demonstrated to suppress the migratory and invasive capacity of lung cancer cell lines by inhibiting EMT. Whilst aspirin has been shown to inhibit platelet-induced EMT in CRC, the direct effects of aspirin on EMT in CRC cell lines has not been established. I hypothesis that aspirin inhibits cell migration, invasion and EMT in CRC which results in a reduction in the CSC population and contributes to the clinical benefit of post-diagnosis aspirin. Using CRC cell lines, I have demonstrated that aspirin treatment inhibits cell migration, invasion, motility and promotes an epithelial phenotype. These results have been confirmed in human organoids and mouse intestinal adenoma in vivo models. Aspirin also promotes a budding phenotype in Apc deficient organoids and reduces expression of stem cell markers in both mouse and human tissue. Aspirin inhibits the mTOR and Wnt signalling pathways in vivo which have the ability to regulate EMT and CSCs although signalling dependency has not been determined. Regardless, aspirin is decreasing the cancer stem cell population and promoting a non-invasive epithelial phenotype which may explain some of the previously described post-diagnosis benefits.