Gastric cancer (GC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide with a five-year survival rate of around 25%, and 4% when diagnosed at a metastatic stage. Cancer stem cells (CSC) have recently been characterized as being responsible for resistance to radio/chemotherapies and metastasis formation, opening up perspectives for new targeted therapies. Those CSCs express biomarkers such as cluster of differentiation 44 (CD44) and display high aldehyde dehydrogenase activity that converts vitamin A-derived retinal into retinoic acids. All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), which has pro-differentiating properties, has revolutionized the prognosis of acute promyelotic leukemia by increasing its remission rate from 15% to 85%. Recent studies have started to show that ATRA also has an anti-tumoral role on solid cancers such as GC. The purpose of this review is therefore to summarize the work that evaluated the effects of ATRA in GC and to evaluate whether its anti-cancerous action involves gastric CSCs targeting. It has been demonstrated that ATRA can block the cell cycle, enhance apoptosis, and decrease gastric CSCs properties in GC cell lines, tumorspheres, and patient-derived xenograft mice models. Therefore, retinoids and new synthetic retinoids seem to be a promising step forward in targeted therapy of gastric CSC in combination with existing chemotherapies. Future studies should probably focus on these points.
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