Cancer-associated fibroblasts contribute to cancer progression that is caused by epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Recently, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) were found to be the major candidate involved in the development of tumor-promoting cancer stroma. Here we report that α-smooth muscle actin-positive myofibroblast-like cells originating from MSCs contribute to inducing EMT in side population cells of pancreatic cancer. More importantly, MSC-derived myofibroblasts function to maintain tumor-initiating stem cell-like characteristics, including augmenting expression levels of various stemness-associated genes, enhancing sphere- forming activity, promoting tumor formation in a mouse xenograft model, and showing resistance to anticancer drugs. Furthermore, both γ-secretase inhibitor and siRNA directed against Jagged-1 attenuated MSC-associated E-cadherin suppression and sphere formation in pancreatic cancer side population cells. Thus, our results suggest that MSC-derived myofibroblasts play important roles in regulating EMT and tumor-initiating stem cell-like properties of pancreatic cancer cells through an intermediating Notch signal.
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