BRACHYURY confers cancer stem cell characteristics on colorectal cancer cells

Debalina Sarkar, Brian Shields, Melanie L. Davies, Jürgen Müller, Jane A. Wakeman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are initiating cells in colorectal cancer (CRC). Colorectal tumours undergo epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT)-like processes at the invasive front, enabling invasion and metastasis, and recent studies have linked this process to the acquisition of stem cell-like properties. It is of fundamental importance to understand the molecular events leading to the establishment of cancer initiating cells and how these mechanisms relate to cellular transitions during tumourigenesis. We use an in vitro system to recapitulate changes in CRC cells at the invasive front (mesenchymal-like cells) and central mass (epithelial-like cells) of tumours. We show that the mesoderm inducer BRACHYURY is expressed in a subpopulation of CRC cells that resemble invasive front mesenchymal-like cells, where it acts to impose characteristics of CSCs in a fully reversible manner, suggesting reversible formation and modulation of such cells. BRACHYURY, itself regulated by the oncogene β-catenin, influences NANOG and other 'stemness' markers including a panel of markers defining CRC-CSC whose presence has been linked to poor patient prognosis. Similar regulation of NANOG through BRACHYURY was observed in other cells lines, suggesting this might be a pathway common to cancer cells undergoing mesenchymal transition. We suggest that BRACHYURY may regulate NANOG in mesenchymal-like CRC cells to impose a 'plastic-state', allowing competence of cells to respond to signals prompting invasion or metastasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-337
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number2
Early online date28 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2012


  • Brachyury
  • cancer stem cells
  • colorectal cancer
  • Nanog


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