Antibody against CD44s inhibits pancreatic tumor initiation and postradiation recurrence in mice

Ling Li, Xinbao Hao, Jun Qin, Wenhua Tang, Fengtian He, Amber Smith, Min Zhang, Diane M Simeone, Xiaotan T Qiao, Zhi-Nan Chen, Theodore S Lawrence, Liang Xu
Gastroenterology 2014, 146 (4): 1108-18

BACKGROUND & AIMS: CD44s is a surface marker of tumor-initiating cells (TICs); high tumor levels correlate with metastasis and recurrence, as well as poor outcomes for patients. Monoclonal antibodies against CD44s might eliminate TICs with minimal toxicity. This strategy is unclear for treatment of pancreatic cancer, and little is known about how anti-CD44s affect pancreatic cancer initiation or recurrence after radiotherapy.

METHODS: One hundred ninety-two pairs of human pancreatic adenocarcinoma and adjacent nontumor pancreatic tissues were collected from patients undergoing surgery. We measured CD44s levels in tissue samples and pancreatic cancer cell lines by immunohistochemistry, real-time polymerase chain reaction, and immunoblot; levels were correlated with patient survival times. We studied the effects of anti-CD44s in mice with human pancreatic tumor xenografts and used flow cytometry to determine the effects on TICs. Changes in CD44s signaling were examined by real-time polymerase chain reaction, immunoblot, reporter assay, and in vitro tumorsphere formation assays.

RESULTS: Levels of CD44s were significantly higher in pancreatic cancer than adjacent nontumor tissues. Patients whose tumors expressed high levels of CD44s had a median survival of 10 months compared with >43 months for those with low levels. Anti-CD44s reduced growth, metastasis, and postradiation recurrence of pancreatic xenograft tumors in mice. The antibody reduced the number of TICs in cultured pancreatic cancer cells and xenograft tumors, as well as their tumorigenicity. In cultured pancreatic cancer cell lines, anti-CD44s down-regulated the stem cell self-renewal genes Nanog, Sox-2, and Rex-1 and inhibited signal transducer and activator of transcription 3-mediated cell proliferation and survival signaling.

CONCLUSIONS: The TIC marker CD44s is up-regulated in human pancreatic tumors and associated with patient survival time. CD44s is required for initiation, growth, metastasis, and postradiation recurrence of xenograft tumors in mice. Anti-CD44s eliminated bulk tumor cells as well as TICs from the tumors. Strategies to target CD44s cab be developed to block pancreatic tumor formation and post-radiotherapy recurrence in patients.

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