Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Peng Huang

Committee Member

Zahid H. Siddik

Committee Member

Xiao-nan Li

Committee Member

Ju-Seog Lee

Committee Member

Anthony Lucci


Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and aggressive primary brain tumor with poor prognosis due in part to drug resistance and high incidence of tumor recurrence. The drug resistant and cancer recurrence phenotype may be ascribed to the presence of glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs), which seem to reside in special stem-cell niches in vivo and require special culture conditions including certain growth factors and serum-free medium to maintain their stemness in vitro. Exposure of GSCs to fetal bovine serum (FBS) can cause their differentiation, the underlying mechanism of which remains unknown. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play an important role in normal stem cell differentiation, but their role in affecting cancer stem cell fate remains unclear. Whether the metabolic characteristics of GSCs are different from other glioblastoma cells and can be targeted are also unknown.

In this study, we used several stem-like glioblastoma cell lines derived from clinical tissues by typical neurosphere culture system or orthotopic xenografts, and showed that addition of fetal bovine serum to the medium induced an increase of ROS, leading to aberrant differentiation and decreases of stem cell markers such as CD133. We found that exposure of GSCs to serum induced their differentiation through activation of mitochondrial respiration, leading to an increase in superoxide (O2-) generation and a profound ROS stress response manifested by upregulation of oxidative stress response pathway. This increase in mitochondrial ROS led to a down-regulation of molecules including SOX2, and Olig2, and Notch1 that are important for stem cell function and an upregulation of mitochondrial superoxide dismutase SOD2 that converts O2- to H2O2. Neutralization of ROS by antioxidant N-acetyl-cysteine in the serum-treated GSCs suppressed the increase of superoxide and partially rescued the expression of SOX2, Olig2, and Notch1, and prevented the serum-induced differentiation phenotype. Additionally, GSCs showed high dependence on glycolysis for energy production. The combination of a glycolytic inhibitor 3-BrOP and a chemotherapeutic agent BCNU depleted cellular ATP and inhibited the repair of BCNU-induced DNA damage, achieving strikingly synergistic killing effects in drug resistant GSCs.

This study uncovers the metabolic properties of glioblastoma stem cells and suggests that mitochondrial function and cellular redox status may profoundly affect the fates of glioblastoma stem cells via a ROS-mediated mechanism, and that the active glycolytic metabolism in cancer stem cells may provide a biochemical basis for developing novel therapeutic strategies to effectively eliminate GSCs.


glioblastoma stem cells, metabolic, glycolysis, reactive oxygen species