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Cancer is one of the most serious diseases all over the world, and the cancer stem cell (CSC) model accounts for tumor initiation, metastasis, drug resistance, and relapse. The CSCs within tumor bulk have the capacity to self-renew, differentiate, and give rise to a new tumor. The self-renewal of CSCs is precisely regulated by various modulators, including Wnt/β-catenin signaling, Notch signaling, Hedgehog signaling, transcription factors, chromatin remodeling complexes, and non-coding RNAs. CSCs reside in their niches that are also involved in the self-renewal maintenance of CSCs and protection of CSCs from chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and even endogenous damages. Moreover, CSCs can also remodel their niches to initiate tumorigenesis. The mutual interactions between CSCs and their niches play a critical role in the regulation of CSC self-renewal and tumorigenesis as well. Many surface markers of CSCs have been identified, and these markers become first choices for CSC targeting. Due to heterogeneity and plasticity, targeting CSCs is still a big challenge for tumor elimination. In this review, we summarize recent progresses on the biological features of CSCs and targeting strategies against CSCs.

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Cancer stem cells and tumorigenesis

Show Author's information Pingping Zhu1Zusen Fan1,2( )
CAS Key Laboratory of Infection and Immunity, CAS Center for Excellence in Biomacromolecules, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China


Cancer is one of the most serious diseases all over the world, and the cancer stem cell (CSC) model accounts for tumor initiation, metastasis, drug resistance, and relapse. The CSCs within tumor bulk have the capacity to self-renew, differentiate, and give rise to a new tumor. The self-renewal of CSCs is precisely regulated by various modulators, including Wnt/β-catenin signaling, Notch signaling, Hedgehog signaling, transcription factors, chromatin remodeling complexes, and non-coding RNAs. CSCs reside in their niches that are also involved in the self-renewal maintenance of CSCs and protection of CSCs from chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and even endogenous damages. Moreover, CSCs can also remodel their niches to initiate tumorigenesis. The mutual interactions between CSCs and their niches play a critical role in the regulation of CSC self-renewal and tumorigenesis as well. Many surface markers of CSCs have been identified, and these markers become first choices for CSC targeting. Due to heterogeneity and plasticity, targeting CSCs is still a big challenge for tumor elimination. In this review, we summarize recent progresses on the biological features of CSCs and targeting strategies against CSCs.

Keywords: Intervention, Cancer stem cells, Signaling pathway, Self-renewal, Tumorigenesis


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Publication history

Received: 01 June 2018
Accepted: 16 July 2018
Published: 29 August 2018
Issue date: August 2018


© The Author(s) 2018



This work was supported by the funding provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (91640203, 31771638), Beijing Natural Science Foundation (7181006), and Postdoctoral Innovative Talent Support Program to Pingping Zhu.

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Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.