Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) remains a leading cause of cancer-related morbidity and mortality in both sexes globally. This is not unconnected with the heterogeneity and plasticity of CRC stem cells (CRC-SCs) which stealthily exploit the niche-related and (epi)genetic factors to facilitate metastasis, chemoresistance, tumor recurrence, and disease progression. Despite the accumulating evidence of the role of dysregulated microRNAs in malignancies, the therapeutic efficacy of pharmacological-targeting of CRC-SC-associated microRNAs is relatively under-explored. Experimental approach: In this present study, we employed relatively new bioinformatics approaches, analyses of microarray data, Western blot, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and functional assays to show that hsa-miR-324-5p expression is significantly suppressed in CRC cells, and inversely correlates with the aberrant expression of SOD2. Results: This converse hsa-miR-324-5p/SOD2 relationship is associated with enhanced oncogenicity, which is effectively inhibited by 4-acetylantroquinonol B (4-AAQB), as evidenced by inhibited cell viability and proliferation, as well as attenuated migration, invasion, and clonogenicity in 4-AAQB-treated DLD1 and HCT116 cells. Interestingly, 4-AAQB did not affect the viability and proliferation of normal colon cells. We also showed that 4-AAQB-induced re-expression of hsa-miR-324-5p, akin to short-interfering RNA, reduced SOD2 expression, correlates with the concurrent down-regulation of SOD2, N-cadherin, vimentin, c-Myc, and BcL-xL2, with concomitant up-regulation of E-cadherin and BAX2 proteins. Enhanced expression of hsa-miR-324-5p in the CRC cells suppressed their tumorigenicity in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, 4-AAQB synergistically potentiates the FOLFOX (folinate (leucovorin), fluorouracil (5FU), and oxaliplatin) anticancer effect by eliciting the re-expression of SOD2-suppressed hsa-miR-324, and inhibiting SOD2-mediated tumorigenicity. Conclusion: Our findings highlight the pre-clinical anti-CSC efficacy of 4-AAQB, with or without FOLFOX in CRC, and suggest a potential novel therapeutic strategy for CRC patients.
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