• cancer;
  • GLI1;
  • glioma;
  • NANOG;
  • stem cell

A cohort of genes associated with embryonic stem (ES) cell behaviour, including NANOG, are expressed in a number of human cancers. They form an ES-like signature we first described in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a highly invasive and incurable brain tumour. We have also shown that HEDGEHOG-GLI (HH-GLI) signalling is required for GBM growth, stem cell expansion and the expression of this (ES)-like stemness signature. Here, we address the function of NANOG in human GBMs and its relationship with HH-GLI activity. We find that NANOG modulates gliomasphere clonogenicity, CD133+ stem cell cell behavior and proliferation, and is regulated by HH-GLI signalling. However, GLI1 also requires NANOG activity forming a positive loop, which is negatively controlled by p53 and vice versa. NANOG is essential for GBM tumourigenicity in orthotopic xenografts and it is epistatic to HH-GLI activity. Our data establish NANOG as a novel HH-GLI mediator essential for GBMs. We propose that this function is conserved and that tumour growth and stem cell behaviour rely on the status of a functional GLI1-NANOG-p53 network.