Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dean G. Tang, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark T. Bedford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

George A. Calin, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ellen R. Richie, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Feng Wang-Johanning, M.D., Ph.D.


Most human tumors contain a population of cells with stem cell properties, called cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are believed to be responsible for tumor establishment, metastasis, and resistance to clinical therapy. It’s crucial to understand the regulatory mechanisms unique to CSCs, so that we may design CSC-specific therapeutics. Recent discoveries of microRNA (miRNA) have provided a new avenue in understanding the regulatory mechanisms of cancer. However, how miRNAs may regulate CSCs is still poorly understood. Here, we present miRNA expression profiling in six populations of prostate cancer (PCa) stem/progenitor cells that possess distinct tumorigenic properties. Six miRNAs were identified to be commonly and differentially expressed, namely, four miRNAs (miR-34a, let-7b, miR-106a and miR-141) were under-expressed, and two miRNAs (miR-301 and miR-452) were over-expressed in the tumorigenic subsets compared to the corresponding marker-negative subpopulations. Among them, the expression patterns of miR-34, let-7b, miR-141 and miR-301 were further confirmed in the CD44+ human primary prostate cancer (HPCa) samples. We then showed that miR-34a functioned as a critical negative regulator in prostate CSCs and PCa development and metastasis. Over-expression of miR-34a in either bulk or CD44+ PCa cells significantly suppressed clonal expansion, tumor development and metastasis. Systemic delivery of miR-34a in tumor-bearing mice demonstrated a potent therapeutic effect again tumor progression and metastasis, leading to extended animal survival. Of great interest, we identified CD44 itself as a direct and relevant downstream target of miR-34a in mediating its tumor-inhibitory effects. Like miR-34a, let-7 manifests similar tumor suppressive effects in PCa cells. In addition, we observed differential mechanisms between let-7 and miR-34a on cell cycle, with miR-34a mainly inducing G1 cell-cycle arrest followed by cell senescence and let-7 inducing G2/M arrest. MiR-301, on the other hand, exerted a cell type dependent effect in regulating prostate CSC properties and PCa development. In summary, our work reveals that the prostate CSC populations display unique miRNA expression signatures and different miRNAs distinctively and coordinately regulate various aspects of CSC properties. Altogether, our results lay a scientific foundation for developing miRNA-based anti-cancer therapy.


microRNA, prostate cancer, cancer stem cell, miR-34a, let-7, miR-301