ARTICLE ABSTRACTChitinase 3–like 1 (Chi3l1) is a secreted protein that is highly expressed in glioblastoma. Here, we show that Chi3l1 alters the state of glioma stem cells (GSC) to support tumor growth. Exposure of patient-derived GSCs to Chi3l1 reduced the frequency of CD133+SOX2+ cells and increased the CD44+Chi3l1+ cells. Chi3l1 bound to CD44 and induced phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of β-catenin, Akt, and STAT3. Single-cell RNA sequencing and RNA velocity following incubation of GSCs with Chi3l1 showed significant changes in GSC state dynamics driving GSCs towards a mesenchymal expression profile and reducing transition probabilities towards terminal cellular states. ATAC-seq revealed that Chi3l1 increases accessibility of promoters containing a Myc-associated zinc finger protein (MAZ) transcription factor footprint. Inhibition of MAZ downregulated a set of genes with high expression in cellular clusters that exhibit significant cell state transitions after treatment with Chi3l1, and MAZ deficiency rescued the Chi3L-induced increase of GSC self-renewal. Finally, targeting Chi3l1 in vivo with a blocking antibody inhibited tumor growth and increased the probability of survival. Overall, this work suggests that Chi3l1 interacts with CD44 on the surface of GSCs to induce Akt/β-catenin signaling and MAZ transcriptional activity, which in turn upregulates CD44 expression in a pro-mesenchymal feed-forward loop. The role of Chi3l1 in regulating cellular plasticity confers a targetable vulnerability to glioblastoma.
Chi3l1 is a modulator of glioma stem cell states that can be targeted to promote differentiation and suppress growth of glioblastoma.