Study sheds light on how pancreatic cancer begins

November 29, 2012

A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is particularly devastating since the prognosis for recovery is usually poor, with the cancer most often not detected until late stages.

Research led by scientists at the University of California, San Diego and UC San Francisco Schools of Medicine examined the tumor-initiating events leading to pancreatic cancer (also called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma or PDA) in mice. Their work, published on line November 29 in the journal Cancer Cell, may help in the search for earlier detection methods and treatments.

"Previously, it was believed that this cancer arises from the epithelial in pancreatic ducts," said Maike Sander, MD, professor of pediatrics and cellular and molecular medicine and director of UC San Diego's Pediatric Diabetes Research Center, co-principal investigator of the study along with Matthias Hebrok, PhD, director of the UCSF Diabetes Center. "But in this study, we show that ducts have almost no response to oncogenic mutations – mutations that give rise to ."

The study revealed that another pancreatic cell type, called the acinar cell, converts into a duct-like cell that initiates tumors. The researchers also showed that inflammation of the pancreas, which is a significant risk factor for pancreatic cancer, promotes the conversion of acinar cells into duct-like tumor precursors.

Kras is a gene that may cause cancer when it is mutated. It makes the Kras protein, which is involved in , cell growth and apoptosis, or cell death. Agents that block the activity of the mutated Kras gene or its protein may stop the growth of cancer.

Tracing specific in the presence and absence of tissue injury in mice, the research team demonstrated that oncogenic Kras can readily induce PDA precursor – or premalignant – lesions called PanIN, from adult pancreatic acinar cells, but not from ductal cells.

Accounting for the fact that acinar cells are more abundant than ductal cells in the adult pancreas of mice, the difference in the ability of the acinar cells to generate PanIN remained more than a 100 times greater than the ability of ductal or so-called centroacinar cells. In addition, the study demonstrated that, when PanIN lesions originate in acinar cells, they activate the ductal transcription factor Sox9. The scientists show that activation of Sox9 is necessary to convert the acinar cells into premalignant lesions. Overexpression of the Sox9 gene enhances both abnormal, pancreatitis-associated changes in adult tissue cells and Kras-induced PanIN formation.

Ductal and centroacinar cells already expressing Sox9 are dramatically resistant to Kras-induced neoplastic transformation, which is the conversion of a tissue with a normal growth pattern into a malignant tumor. The findings demonstrate a key role for acinar cells in the beginning stages of , and point to Sox9 as a potential target for preventing early tumor-initiating events.

Explore further: EGFR essential for the development of pancreatic cancer

Related Stories

EGFR essential for the development of pancreatic cancer

September 15, 2011
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene is essential for KRAS-driven pancreatic cancer development, according to study results presented at the Second AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Basic Cancer Research, ...

Gene linked to pancreatic cancer growth, study finds

January 31, 2012
A mutant protein found in nearly all pancreatic cancers plays a role not only in the cancer's development but in its continued growth, according to a new study from University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. ...

Team pinpoints role of key protein in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

May 11, 2011
A team based at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has established a connection between a known cancer gene called KRAS and a protein called Pim-1 kinase.

Leukemia inhibitory factor may be a promising target against pancreatic cancer

June 19, 2012
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, defying most treatments. Its ability to evade therapy may be attributable to the presence of cancer stem cells, a subset of cancer cells present in pancreatic tumors ...

Recommended for you

New findings explain how UV rays trigger skin cancer

October 18, 2017
Melanoma, a cancer of skin pigment cells called melanocytes, will strike an estimated 87,110 people in the U.S. in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A fraction of those melanomas come from ...

Drug yields high response rates for lung cancer patients with harsh mutation

October 18, 2017
A targeted therapy resurrected by the Moon Shots Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has produced unprecedented response rates among patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer that carries ...

Possible new immune therapy target in lung cancer

October 18, 2017
A study from Bern University Hospital in collaboration with the University of Bern shows that so-called perivascular-like cells from lung tumors behave abnormally. They not only inadequately support vascular structures, but ...

Many pelvic tumors in women may have common origin—fallopian tubes

October 17, 2017
Most—and possibly all—ovarian cancers start, not in ovaries, but instead in the fallopian tubes attached to them.

Researchers find novel mechanism of resistance to anti-cancer drugs

October 17, 2017
The targeted anti-cancer therapies cetuximab and panitumumab are mainstays of treatment for advanced colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, many patients have tumors ...

New bowel cancer drug target discovered

October 17, 2017
Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered a new drug target for bowel cancer that is specific to tumour cells and therefore less toxic than conventional therapies.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.