Cancer stem cells sustain propagation of the deadly primary brain cancer glioblastoma. Glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs) characterized by a mesenchymal phenotype are aggressive and resistant to therapies and represent a crucial therapeutic target. In this issue of the JCI, Chen et al. show that the intracellular levels of aldehyde dehydrogenase 1A3 (ALDH1A3), known as a functional marker of mesenchymal GSCs, are regulated posttranslationally by ubiquitin-specific protease 9X–mediated (USP9X-mediated) deubiquitination. Increased expression of USP9X stabilizes ALDH1A3, enabling GSCs to exhibit mesenchymal traits and the malignant phenotype. Thus, the USP9X-ALDH1A3 axis may offer a novel therapeutic target in glioblastoma.
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