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Aspartame induces cancer stem cell enrichment through p21, NICD and GLI1 in human PANC-1 pancreas adenocarcinoma cells

, Merve Ercin, Serap Sancar, Ertan Celik, Meral Koyuturk, Sema Bolkent, Sehnaz Bolkent
Published: 14 May 2021

Abstract: This study aimed to investigate the molecular effects of the common natural sugar glucose and artificial sweetener aspartame on cancer stem cell (CSC) population and cancer aggressiveness of PANC-1 human pancreas adenocarcinoma cells. According to our findings while aspartame exposure significantly increased the CSC population, high glucose had no effect on it. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition marker N-cadherin increased only in the aspartame group. The findings indicate that a high level of glucose exposure does not effect the invasion and migration of PANC-1 cells, while aspartame increases both of these aggressiveness criteria. The findings also suggest that a high concentration of glucose maintains CSC population through induction of nuclear Oct3/4 and differentiation to parental cells via increasing cytoplasmic c-myc. Aspartame exposure to PANC-1 cells activated AKT and deactivated GSK3β by increasing levels of ROS and cytoplasmic Ca+2, respectively, through T1R2/T1R3 stimulation. Then p-GSK3β(Ser9) boosted the CSC population by increasing pluripotency factors Oct3/4 and c-myc via NICD, GLI1 and p21. In the aspartame group, T1R1 silencing further increased the CSC population but decreased cell viability and suppressed the p21, NICD and GLI activation. The presence and amount of T1R subunits in the membrane fraction of PANC-1 cells are demonstrated for the first time in this study, as is the regulatory effect of T1R1's on CSC population. In conclusion, the present study demonstrated that long-term aspartame exposure increases CSC population and tumor cell aggressiveness through p21, NICD, GLI1. Moreover, while aspartame had no tumorigenic effect, it could potentially advance an existing tumor.
Keywords: Aspartame / Cancer stem cell / Glucose / GLI1 / NICD / p21 / T1R1

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