Background: Alterations in the stem cell niche are likely to contribute to tumorigenesis; however, the concept of niche promoted benign tumor growth remains to be explored. Here we use keloid, an exuberant fibroproliferative dermal growth unique to human skin, as a model to characterize benign tumor-like stem cells and delineate the role of their "pathological" niche in the development of the benign tumor. Methods and Findings: Subclonal assay, flow cytometric and multipotent differentiation analyses demonstrate that keloid contains a new population of stem cells, named keloid derived precursor cells (KPCs), which exhibit clonogenicity, self-renewal, distinct embryonic and mesenchymal stem cell surface markers, and multipotent differentiation. KPCs display elevated telomerase activity and an inherently upregulated proliferation capability as compared to their peripheral normal skin counterparts. A robust elevation of IL-6 and IL-17 expression in keloid is confirmed by cytokine array, western blot and ELISA analyses. The altered biological functions are tightly regulated by the inflammatory niche mediated by an autocrine/paracrine cytokine IL-17/IL-6 axis. Utilizing KPCs transplanted subcutaneously in immunocompromised mice we generate for the first time a human keloid-like tumor model that is driven by the in vivo inflammatory niche and allows testing of the anti-tumor therapeutic effect of antibodies targeting distinct niche components, specifically IL-6 and IL-17. Conclusions/Significance: These findings support our hypothesis that the altered niche in keloids, predominantly inflammatory, contributes to the acquirement of a benign tumor-like stem cell phenotype of KPCs characterized by the uncontrolled self-renewal and increased proliferation, supporting the rationale for in vivo modification of the "pathological" stem cell niche as a novel therapy for keloid and other mesenchymal benign tumors.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes