IL-6 mediates platinum-induced enrichment of ovarian cancer stem cells

Yinu Wang, Xingyue Zong, Sumegha Mitra, Anirban Kumar Mitra, Daniela Matei, Kenneth P. Nephew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


In high-grade serous ovarian cancer (OC), chemotherapy eliminates the majority of tumor cells, leaving behind residual tumors enriched in OC stem cells (OCSC). OCSC, defined as aldehyde dehydrogenase-positive (ALDH+), persist and contribute to tumor relapse. Inflammatory cytokine IL-6 is elevated in residual tumors after platinum treatment, and we hypothesized that IL-6 plays a critical role in platinum-induced OCSC enrichment. We demonstrate that IL-6 regulates stemness features of OCSC driven by ALDH1A1 expression and activity. We show that platinum induces IL-6 secretion by cancer-associated fibroblasts in the tumor microenvironment, promoting OCSC enrichment in residual tumors after chemotherapy. By activating STAT3 and upregulating ALDH1A1 expression, IL-6 treatment converted non-OCSC to OCSC. Having previously shown altered DNA methylation in OCSC, we show here that IL-6 induces DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) expression and the hypomethylating agent (HMA) guadecitabine induced differentiation of OCSC and reduced - but did not completely eradicate - OCSC. IL-6 neutralizing antibody (IL-6-Nab) combined with HMA fully eradicated OCSC, and the combination blocked IL-6/IL6-R/pSTAT3-mediated ALDH1A1 expression and eliminated OCSC in residual tumors that persisted in vivo after chemotherapy. We conclude that IL-6 signaling blockade combined with an HMA can eliminate OCSC after platinum treatment, supporting this strategy to prevent tumor recurrence after standard chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 6 2018


  • Cancer
  • Epigenetics
  • Immunotherapy
  • Inflammation
  • Stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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