Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) and their receptors (FGFRs) are important for signaling to maintain cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). However, which FGF receptor, 1, 2, 3, 4, and L1, is essential or whether FGFRs have distinct different roles in ESCC-CSCs is still in question. This study shows that FGFR2, particularly the IIIb isoform, is highly expressed in non-CSCs. Non-CSCs have an epithelial phenotype, and such cells are more differentiated in ESCC. Further, FGFR2 induces keratinocyte differentiation through AKT but not MAPK signaling and diminishes CSC populations. Conversely, knockdown of FGFR2 induces epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and enriches CSC populations in ESCC. Finally, data analysis using The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) dataset shows that expression of FGFR2 significantly correlated with cancer cell differentiation in clinical ESCC samples. The present study shows that each FGFR has a distinct role and FGFR2-AKT signaling is a key driver of keratinocyte differentiation in ESCC. Activation of FGFR2-AKT signaling could be a future therapeutic option targeting CSC in ESCC.
- Cancer stem-like cells
- esophageal squamous cell carcinoma
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine
- Cancer Research