The IVF-generated human embryonic microenvironment reverses progestin resistance in endometrial cancer cells by inducing cancer stem cell differentiation

Di Sun, Zuoshu Qin, Yuan Xu, Qimeng Xiao, Yiqing Xu, Mingzhu Bai, Wen Li, Yong Liu, Wenxin Zheng, Zhenbo Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Progestin resistance is a critical factor that prevents patients with endometrial cancer (EC) from receiving conservative therapy. However, the etiology remains elusive. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) may be a contributing factor to progestin resistance in EC. These cells share similar stemness properties with embryonic stem cells that have a multipotent but differential naïve phenotype. Embryonic stem cells are programed to self-renew, to differentiate and to show plasticity toward a normal cellular phenotype in their defined microenvironment. However, whether this microenvironment may promote CSC differentiation toward a better responsive phenotype and reverse progestin resistance has not yet been clarified. In the current study, we found that progestin resistance of endometrial CSCs can be improved or reversed by using in vitro fertilization (IVF)-generated embryonic sac-derived fluid containing the embryonic microenvironment. Furthermore, suppression or reversal of progestin resistance was mediated by placental alkaline phosphatase (ALPP), a factor secreted into the embryonic microenvironment by IVF-generated blastocysts. ALPP significantly reversed progestin resistance by facilitating endometrial CSC differentiation through downregulating the stemness genes NANOG, OCT4 and SOX2. We further showed that the downregulation of NANOG, OCT4 and SOX2 by ALPP was carried out by TET1/2-mediated epigenetic modulation of the promoter regions of these genes. Such changes at the molecular level initiated endometrial CSC differentiation and promoted a better responsive endometrial cancer phenotype. In fact, their response to progestin treatment was similar to that of well-differentiated endometrioid carcinoma cells without CSCs. ALPP could be a novel target in the process to overcome progestin resistance, and such findings may provide a new approach for the conservative treatment of endometrial cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-321
Number of pages11
JournalCancer Letters
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022


  • CSC
  • Differentiation
  • Embryonic microenvironment
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Progestin resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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