The first report of cancer stem cell (CSC) from Bruce et al. has demonstrated the relatively rare population of stem-like cells in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The discovery of leukemic CSCs prompted further identification of CSCs in multiple types of solid tumor. Recently, extensive research has attempted to identity CSCs in multiple types of solid tumors in the brain, colon, head and neck, liver, and lung. Based on these studies, we hypothesize that the initiation and progression of most malignant tumors rely largely on the CSC population. Recent studies indicated that stem cell-related markers or signaling pathways, such as aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), CD133, epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM), Wnt/β-catenin signaling, and Notch signaling, contribute to the initiation and progression of various liver cancer types. Importantly, CSCs are markedly resistant to conventional therapeutic approaches and current targeted therapeutics. Therefore, it is believed that selectively targeting specific markers and/or signaling pathways of hepatic CSCs is an effective therapeutic strategy for treating chemotherapy-resistant liver cancer. Here, we provide an overview of the current knowledge on the hepatic CSC hypothesis and discuss the specific surface markers and critical signaling pathways involved in the development and maintenance of hepatic CSC subpopulations.
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