Patterns of stemness-associated markers in the development of castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Putative castration-resistant (CR) stem-like cells (CRSC) have been identified based on their ability to initiate and drive prostate cancer (PCa) recurrence following castration in vivo. Yet the relevance of these CRSC in the course of the human disease and particularly for the transition from hormone-naive (HN) to castration-resistance is unclear. In this study, we aimed at deciphering the significance of CRSC markers in PCa progression.

We constructed a tissue microarray comprising 112 matched HN and CR tissue specimens derived from 55 PCa patients. Expression of eight stemness-associated markers (ALDH1A1, ALDH1A3, ALDH3A1, BMI1, NANOG, NKX3.1, OCT4, SOX2) was assessed by immunohistochemistry and scored as a percentage of positive tumor cells. For each marker, the resulting scores were statistically analyzed and compared to pathological and clinical data associated with the samples. Unsupervised clustering analysis was performed to stratify patients according to the expression of the eight CRSC markers. Publicly-available transcriptional datasets comprising HN and CR PCa samples were interrogated to assess the expression of the factors in silico.

Immunohistochemical assessment of paired samples revealed atypical patterns of expression and intra- and intertumor heterogeneity for a subset of CRSC markers. While the expression of particular CRSC markers was dynamic over time in some patients, none of the markers showed significant changes in expression upon the development of castration resistance (CR vs HN). Using unsupervised clustering approaches, we identified phenotypic subtypes based on the expression of specific stem-associated markers. In particular, we found (a) patterns of mutual exclusivity for ALDH1A1 and ALDH1A3 expression, which was also observed at the transcriptomic level in publicly-available PCa datasets, and (b) a phenotypic cluster associated with more aggressive features. Finally, by comparing HN and CR matched samples, we identified phenotypic cluster switches (ie, change of phenotypic cluster between the HN and CR state), that may be associated with clinical and predictive relevance.

Our findings indicate stemness-associated patterns that are associated with the development of castration-resistance. These results pave the way toward a deeper understanding of the relevance of CRSC markers in PCa progression and resistance to androgen-deprivation therapy.

The Prostate. 2020 Jul 06 [Epub ahead of print]

Joël R Federer-Gsponer, David C Müller, Tobias Zellweger, Maurice Eggimann, Katharina Marston, Christian Ruiz, Hans-Helge Seifert, Cyrill A Rentsch, Lukas Bubendorf, Clémentine Le Magnen

Department of Urology, University Hospital Basel, Basel, Switzerland., Department of Urology, St Clara Hospital, Basel, Switzerland., Institute of Medical Genetics and Pathology, University Hospital Basel, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.