ARTICLE ABSTRACTUnderstanding the cancer stem cell (CSC) landscape in diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is desperately needed to address treatment resistance and identify novel therapeutic approaches. Patient-derived DIPG cells demonstrated heterogeneous expression of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and CD133 by flow cytometry. Transcriptome-level characterization identified elevated mRNA levels of MYC, E2F, DNA damage repair (DDR) genes, glycolytic metabolism, and mTOR signaling in ALDH+ compared with ALDH−, supporting a stem-like phenotype and indicating a druggable target. ALDH+ cells demonstrated increased proliferation, neurosphere formation, and initiated tumors that resulted in decreased survival when orthotopically implanted. Pharmacologic MAPK/PI3K/mTOR targeting downregulated MYC, E2F, and DDR mRNAs and reduced glycolytic metabolism. In vivo PI3K/mTOR targeting inhibited tumor growth in both flank and an ALDH+ orthotopic tumor model likely by reducing cancer stemness. In summary, we describe existence of ALDH+ DIPGs with proliferative properties due to increased metabolism, which may be regulated by the microenvironment and likely contributing to drug resistance and tumor recurrence.
Characterization of ALDH+ DIPGs coupled with targeting MAPK/PI3K/mTOR signaling provides an impetus for molecularly targeted therapy aimed at addressing the CSC phenotype in DIPG.