Introduction: Cancer stem cells (CSCs) shape the tumor microenvironment via neuroendocrine signaling and orchestrate drug resistance and metastasis. Cytokine antibody array demonstrated the upregulation of neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) in lung CSCs. This study aims to dissect the role of NT-3 in lung CSCs during tumor innervation. Methods: Western blotting, quantitative reverse transcription-PCR, and flow cytometry were used to determine the expression of the NT-3 axis in lung CSCs. NT-3-knockdown and NT-3-overexpressed cells were derived lung CSCs, followed by examining the stemness gene expression, tumorsphere formation, transwell migration and invasion, drug resistance, soft agar colony formation, and in vivo tumorigenicity. Human lung cancer tissue microarray and bioinformatic databases were used to investigate the clinical relevance of NT-3 in lung cancer. Results: NT-3 and its receptor tropomyosin receptor kinase C (TrkC) were augmented in lung tumorspheres. NT-3 silencing (shNT-3) suppressed the migration and anchorage-independent growth of lung cancer cells. Further, shNT-3 abolished the sphere-forming capability, chemo-drug resistance, invasion, and in vivo tumorigenicity of lung tumorspheres with a decreased expression of CSC markers. Conversely, NT-3 overexpression promoted migration and anchorage-independent growth and fueled tumorsphere formation by upregulating the expression of CSC markers. Lung cancer tissue microarray analysis revealed that NT-3 increased in patients with advanced-stage, lymphatic metastasis and positively correlated with Sox2 expression. Bioinformatic databases confirmed a co-expression of NT-3/TrkC-axis and demonstrated that NT-3, NT-3/TrkC, NT-3/Sox2, and NT-3/CD133 worsen the survival of lung cancer patients. Conclusion: NT-3 conferred the stemness features in lung cancer during tumor innervation, which suggests that NT-3-targeting is feasible in eradicating lung CSCs.

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