In high-grade serous ovarian cancer (OC), chemotherapy eliminates the majority of tumor cells, leaving behind residual tumors enriched in OC stem cells (OCSC). OCSC, defined as aldehyde dehydrogenase–positive (ALDH+), persist and contribute to tumor relapse. Inflammatory cytokine IL-6 is elevated in residual tumors after platinum treatment, and we hypothesized that IL-6 plays a critical role in platinum-induced OCSC enrichment. We demonstrate that IL-6 regulates stemness features of OCSC driven by ALDH1A1 expression and activity. We show that platinum induces IL-6 secretion by cancer-associated fibroblasts in the tumor microenvironment, promoting OCSC enrichment in residual tumors after chemotherapy. By activating STAT3 and upregulating ALDH1A1 expression, IL-6 treatment converted non-OCSC to OCSC. Having previously shown altered DNA methylation in OCSC, we show here that IL-6 induces DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) expression and the hypomethylating agent (HMA) guadecitabine induced differentiation of OCSC and reduced — but did not completely eradicate — OCSC. IL-6 neutralizing antibody (IL-6-Nab) combined with HMA fully eradicated OCSC, and the combination blocked IL-6/IL6-R/pSTAT3–mediated ALDH1A1 expression and eliminated OCSC in residual tumors that persisted in vivo after chemotherapy. We conclude that IL-6 signaling blockade combined with an HMA can eliminate OCSC after platinum treatment, supporting this strategy to prevent tumor recurrence after standard chemotherapy.


Yinu Wang, Xingyue Zong, Sumegha Mitra, Anirban Kumar Mitra, Daniela Matei, Kenneth P. Nephew


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