Snail, a potent repressor of E-cadherin expression, plays a key role in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in epithelial cancer. Recently, EMT and stemness programs are found linked together. In the current study, the expression of Snail and its contribution to cancer stem cell (CSC) marker expression, invasiveness, self-renewal, clonogenicity, and tumorigenicity of pancreatic cancer cells were studied. Our results showed that Snail was highly expressed in CSChigh cell line Panc-1. Stable, short hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated Snail knockdown decreased invasion in Panc-1 cells, in line with increased E-cadherin expression and its translocation from the nucleus to the membrane. Snail silencing in Panc-1 also inhibited CSC marker ALDH expression, together with decreased sphere and colony forming capacity, which was highly consistent with the expression of stem cell associated transcription factors like Sox2 and Oct4. In mouse xenograft models, knockdown of Snail led to a reduced number of tumor-bearing mice and a reduced average size of tumors, which had a stronger membrane staining of E-cadherin and lighter staining of Oct4. Collectively, these findings implicate Snail is required for the maintenance of stem cell-like phenotype in pancreatic cancer, and inhibition of Snail could be an efficient strategy to treat pancreatic cancer by targeting CSCs.
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