Defining traits of platinum-tolerant cancer cells could expose new treatment vulnerabilities. Here, new markers associated with platinum-tolerant cells and tumors were identified using in vitro and in vivo ovarian cancer models treated repetitively with carboplatin and validated in human specimens. Platinum-tolerant cells and tumors were enriched in ALDHþ cells, formed more spheroids, and expressed increased levels of stemness-related transcription factors compared with parental cells. Additionally, platinum-tolerant cells and tumors exhibited expression of the Wnt receptor Frizzled-7 (FZD7). Knockdown of FZD7 improved sensitivity to platinum, decreased spheroid formation, and delayed tumor initiation. The molecular signature distinguishing FZD7þ from FZD7 cells included epithelial-to-mesenchymal (EMT), stemness, and oxidative phosphorylation-enriched gene sets. Overexpression of FZD7 activated the oncogenic factor Tp63, driving upregulation of glutathione metabolism pathways, including glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4), which protected cells from chemotherapy-induced oxidative stress. FZD7þ platinum-tolerant ovarian cancer cells were more sensitive and underwent ferroptosis after treatment with GPX4 inhibitors. FZD7, Tp63, and glutathione metabolism gene sets were strongly correlated in the ovarian cancer Tumor Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database and in residual human ovarian cancer specimens after chemotherapy. These results support the existence of a platinum-tolerant cell population with partial cancer stem cell features, characterized by FZD7 expression and dependent on the FZD7–b-catenin–Tp63–GPX4 pathway for survival. The findings reveal a novel therapeutic vulnerability of platinum-tolerant cancer cells and provide new insight into a potential “persister cancer cell” phenotype. Significance: Frizzled-7 marks platinum-tolerant cancer cells harboring stemness features and altered glutathione metabolism that depend on GPX4 for survival and are highly susceptible to ferroptosis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research