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This article is the author's final published version in Cancers, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2024, Article number 264.

The published version is available at Copyright © 2024 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


APC mutation is the main driving mechanism of CRC development and leads to constitutively activated WNT signaling, overpopulation of ALDH+ stem cells (SCs), and incomplete differentiation. We previously reported that retinoic acid (RA) receptors are selectively expressed in ALDH+ SCs, which provides a way to target cancer SCs with retinoids to induce differentiation. Hypotheses: A functional link exists between the WNT and RA pathways, and APC mutation generates a WNT:RA imbalance that decreases retinoid-induced differentiation and increases ALDH+ SCs. Accordingly, to restore parity in WNT:RA signaling, we induce wt-APC expression in APC-mutant CRC cells, and we assess the ability of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) to induce differentiation. We found that ATRA increased expression of the WNT target gene, CYP26A1, and inducing wt-APC reduced this expression by 50%. Thus, the RA and WNT pathways crosstalk to modulate CYP26A1, which metabolizes retinoids. Moreover, inducing wt-APC augments ATRA-induced cell differentiation by: (i) decreasing cell proliferation; (ii) suppressing ALDH1A1 expression; (iii) decreasing ALDH+ SCs; and (iv) increasing neuroendocrine cell differentiation. A novel CYP26A1-based network that links WNT and RA signaling was also identified by NanoString profiling/bioinformatics analysis. Furthermore, CYP26A1 inhibitors sensitized CRC cells to the anti-proliferative effect of drugs that downregulate WNT signaling. Notably, in wt-APC-CRCs, decreased CYP26A1 improved patient survival. These findings have strong potential for clinical translation.

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Creative Commons License
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