ARTICLE ABSTRACTLiver cancer stem cells (LCSCs) play a critical role in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) by virtue of their aggressive behavior and association with poor prognoses. Aquaporin-9 (AQP9) is a transmembrane protein that transports water and reportedly transports H2O2. Recent studies have shown that AQP9 expression has a negative effect on HCC cell invasion by inhibiting the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. However, the role of AQP9 in LCSCs remains obscure. We performed spheroid formation assay and flow cytometric analysis to investigate LCSCs stemness. CD133+ and CD133− cells were isolated by flow cytometry. Real-time quantitative PCR (qRT-PCR), Western blot analysis, and immunofluorescence assay were used to estimate gene expression. The protein association of β-catenin with TCF4 and the interaction of β-catenin with FOXO3a were detected by immunoprecipitation (IP). Here, we found that AQP9 was preferentially decreased in LCSCs. Upregulated AQP9 significantly suppressed LCSCs stemness. In contrast, the inhibition of AQP9 had the opposite effect. Mechanistically, AQP9 was shown to be downregulated by insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2), which was widely reported to contribute to maintaining CSCs stemness. Furthermore, AQP9 overexpression was found to result in reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulation, which inhibited β-catenin activity by attenuating the interaction of β-catenin with TCF4 while concurrently enhancing the association of β-catenin with FOXO3a, ultimately inhibiting LCSCs stemness. Our study implies that stimulation of the AQP9 signaling axis may be a novel preventive and/or therapeutic approach for eliminating LCSCs.
Our findings demonstrate that AQP9 signaling axis may be a novel preventive and/or therapeutic approach for eliminating LCSCs.