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(Cancer Sci 2010; 101: 673–678)

Similar to normal tissue stem cells, cancer stem cells (CSCs) are thought to be quiescent or slow-cycling and, thereby, insensitive to chemo- and radiotherapies. CD44, a cell surface component that interacts with the extracellular matrix, has been found to be highly expressed in CSCs of several solid tumors. However, the relevancy between CD44+ cells and slow-cycling cells and the underlying mechanisms for the emergence of CD44+ CSCs during tumorigenesis have not been elucidated. Here we show that a gastric gland residing at the squamo-columnar junction (SCJ) in normal mouse stomach contains CD44+ stem cell-like slow-cycling cells and that this characteristic CD44+ gland was expanded by prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and Wnt signaling in K19-Wnt1/C2mE mouse, a genetic mouse model for gastric tumorigenesis. The analysis of three transgenic mouse lines, K19-Wnt1, K19-C2mE and K19-Wnt1/C2mE, revealed that the expansion of CD44+ SCJ cells is triggered by PGE2-mediated signaling and is prominently enhanced by the addition of Wnt activation. Furthermore, each expanded CD44+ gland in gastric tumor of K19-Wnt1/C2mE mouse contains a few BrdU label-retaining quiescent or slow-cycling cells, suggesting that the CD44+ SCJ cells in normal mouse are candidates for the cell-of-origin of gastric CSCs. These observations suggest that PGE2-mediated inflammatory signaling and Wnt signaling cooperatively trigger the expansion of CD44+ slow-cycling stem-like cells in SCJ, leading to development of lethal gastric tumors in mice.