Abstract: Temozolomide (TMZ) resistance is a major clinical challenge for glioblastoma (GBM). O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) mediated DNA damage repair is a key mechanism for TMZ resistance. However, MGMT-null GBM patients remain resistant to TMZ, and the process for resistance evolution is largely unknown. Here, we developed an acquired TMZ resistant xenograft model using serial implantation of MGMT-null U87 cells, allowing the extraction of stable, TMZ resistant (TMZ-R) tumors and primary cells. The derived tumors and cells exhibited stable multidrug resistance both in vitro and in vivo. Functional experiments, as well as single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), indicated that TMZ treatment induced cellular heterogeneity including quiescent cancer stem cells (CSCs) in TMZ-R tumors. A subset of these were labeled by NES+/SOX2+/CADM1+ and demonstrated significant advantages for drug resistance. Further study revealed that Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) deficiency and diminished downstream signaling may confer this triple positive CSCs subgroup’s quiescent phenotypes and chemoresistance. Continuous EGF treatment improved the chemosensitivity of TMZ-R cells both in vitro and in vivo, mechanically reversing cell cycle arrest and reduced drug uptake. Further, EGF treatment of TMZ-R tumors favorably normalized the response to TMZ in combination therapy. Here, we characterize a unique subgroup of CSCs in MGMT-null experimental glioblastoma, identifying EGF + TMZ therapy as a potential strategy to overcome cellular quiescence and TMZ resistance, likely endowed by deficient EGFR signaling.

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