Tumor relapse and metastatic spreading act as major hindrances to achieve complete cure of breast cancer. Evidence suggests that cancer stem cells (CSC) would function as a reservoir for the local and distant recurrence of the disease, due to their resistance to radio- and chemotherapy and their ability to regenerate the tumor. Therefore, the identification of appropriate molecular targets expressed by CSC may be critical in the development of more effective therapies. Our studies focused on the identification of mammary CSC antigens and on the development of CSC-targeting vaccines. We compared the transcriptional profile of CSC-enriched tumorspheres from an Her2 + breast cancer cell line with that of the more differentiated parental cells. Among the molecules strongly upregulated in tumorspheres we selected the transmembrane amino-acid antiporter xCT. In this review, we summarize the results we obtained with different xCT-targeting vaccines. We show that, despite xCT being a self-antigen, vaccination was able to induce a humoral immune response that delayed primary tumor growth and strongly impaired pulmonary metastasis formation in mice challenged with tumorsphere-derived cells. Moreover, immunotargeting of xCT was able to increase CSC chemosensitivity to doxorubicin, suggesting that it may act as an adjuvant to chemotherapy. In conclusion, our approach based on the comparison of the transcriptome of tumorspheres and parental cells allowed us to identify a novel CSC-related target and to develop preclinical therapeutic approaches able to impact on CSC biology, and therefore, hampering tumor growth and dissemination.
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