Secondary metabolites of lichens are promising bioresources for candidate anti-cancer drugs. Accordingly, several approaches have been proposed for screening these molecules for novel anti-cancer lead compounds. In this study, we found that a non-toxic concentration of physciosporin, a compound isolated from Pseudocyphellaria granulata, significantly decreased colony formation on soft agar and spheroid formation by CSC221 cancer stem-like cells. Physciosporin also decreased spheroid formation in other colorectal cancer cell lines, including DLD1, Caco2, and HT29. Aldehyde dehydrogenase-1 (ALDH1), the most important cancer stem marker, was sharply downregulated at both the protein and mRNA level following treatment with physciosporin. Physciosporin also decreased the transcriptional activity of the glioma-associated oncogene homolog zinc finger protein (Gli), as well as the Hes1 and CSL promoters, in reporter assays. Moreover, the drug significantly suppressed spheroid formation in CSC221 cells overexpressing Gli1/2 or EN1 (an S2-cleaved but membrane-tethered form of human Notch1) but did not suppress spheroid formation in cells overexpressing both Gli1/2 and ∆EN1, suggesting that physciosporin suppresses colon cancer cell stemness through the Sonic hedgehog and Notch signaling pathways. Together, these results demonstrate for the first time that physciosporin is a potent inhibitor of colorectal cancer cell stemness.
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