Cancer stem cells (CSC) are crucial mediators of cancer relapse. Here, we isolated two primary human colorectal cancer cell lines derived from a rectal neuroendocrine carcinoma (BKZ-2) and a colorectal adenocarcinoma (BKZ-3), both containing subpopulations with potential stem-like properties. Protein expression of CSC-markers prominin-1 and CD44 antigen was significantly higher for BKZ-2 and BKZ-3 in comparison to well-established colon carcinoma cell lines. High sphere-formation capacity further confirmed the existence of a subpopulation with potential stem-like phenotype. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition markers as well as immune checkpoint ligands were expressed more pronounced in BKZ-2. Both cell populations demonstrated N-myc proto-oncogene (NMYC) copy number gain. Myc proto-oncogene (MYC)/NMYC activity inhibitor all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) significantly reduced the number of tumor spheres for both and the volume of BKZ-2 spheres. In contrast, the sphere volume of ATRA-treated BKZ-3 was increased, and only BKZ-2 cell proliferation was reduced in monolayer culture. Treatment with KJ-Pyr-9, a specific inhibitor of MYC/NMYC-myc-associated factor X interaction, decreased survival by the induction of apoptosis of both. In summary, here, we present the novel colorectal cancer cell lines BKZ-2 and BKZ-3 as promising cellular in vitro models for colorectal carcinomas and identify the MYC/NMYC molecular pathway involved in CSC-induced carcinogenesis with relevant therapeutic potential.
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