Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells: Unraveling a Germline Connection

Seema C. Parte, Andrei Smolenkov, Surinder K. Batra, Mariusz Z. Ratajczak, Sham S. Kakar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Ovarian cancer is most lethal among gynecological cancers with often fatal consequences due to lack of effective biomarkers and relapse, which propels ovarian cancer research into unique directions to establish solid targeted therapeutics. "Ovarian stem cells" expressing germline pluripotent markers serve as novel paradigm with potential to address infertility, menopause, and probably influence tumor initiation. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) pose vital role in tumor recurrence and hence it is extremely important to study them with respect to ovarian stem cells across various cancer stages and normal ovaries. Pluripotent (OCT4, NANOG, SOX2, SSEA1, and SSEA4), germline (IFITM3, VASA/DDX4), and cancer stem (CD44, LGR5) cell specific markers were characterized for protein and mRNA expression in tumor tissues to understand their distribution in the surface epithelium and ovarian cortex in benign, borderline, and high-grade malignant stages. To elucidate whether pluripotent ovarian germline stem cells and CSCs are common subset of stem cells in tumor tissues, VASA was colocalized with known pluripotent stem (OCT4, SSEA1, SSEA4) and CSC (CD44, LGR5) specific markers by confocal microscopy. Single, smaller spherical (≤5 μm), and larger elliptical fibroblast like (≥10 μm) cells (also in clusters or multiples) were detected implying probable functional behavioral significance of cells in tumor initiation and metastasis across various cancer stages. Cells revealed characteristic staining pattern in ovarian surface epithelium (OSE) and cortex regions exclusive for each marker. Co-expression studies revealed specific subpopulations existing simultaneously in OSE and cortex and that a dynamic hierarchy of (cancer) stem cells with germline properties prevails in normal ovaries and cancer stages. Novel insights into CSC biology with respect to ovarian and germline stem cell perspective were obtained. Understanding molecular signatures and distribution within ovarian tissue may enable identification of precise tumor-initiating CSC populations and signaling pathways thus improving their efficient targeting and strategies to prevent their dissemination causing fatal relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1781-1803
Number of pages23
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2017


  • Cancer stem cells
  • germline stem cells
  • ovarian cancer
  • ovarian stem cells
  • ovarian surface epithelium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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