JOURNAL ARTICLE

Microenvironmental hCAP-18/LL-37 promotes pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma by activating its cancer stem cell compartment

Bruno Sainz, Sonia Alcala, Elena Garcia, Yolanda Sanchez-Ripoll, Maria M Azevedo, Michele Cioffi, Marianthi Tatari, Irene Miranda-Lorenzo, Manuel Hidalgo, Gonzalo Gomez-Lopez, Marta Cañamero, Mert Erkan, Jörg Kleeff, Susana García-Silva, Patricia Sancho, Patrick C Hermann, Christopher Heeschen
Gut 2015, 64 (12): 1921-35
25841238

OBJECTIVES: The tumour stroma/microenvironment not only provides structural support for tumour development, but more importantly it provides cues to cancer stem cells (CSCs) that regulate their self-renewal and metastatic potential. This is certainly true for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAC), where tumour-associated fibroblasts, pancreatic stellate cells and immune cells create an abundant paracrine niche for CSCs via microenvironment-secreted factors. Thus understanding the role that tumour stroma cells play in PDAC development and CSC biology is of utmost importance.

DESIGN: Microarray analyses, tumour microarray immunohistochemical assays, in vitro co-culture experiments, recombinant protein treatment approaches and in vivo intervention studies were performed to understand the role that the immunomodulatory cationic antimicrobial peptide 18/LL-37 (hCAP-18/LL-37) plays in PDAC biology.

RESULTS: We found that hCAP-18/LL-37 was strongly expressed in the stroma of advanced primary and secondary PDAC tumours and is secreted by immune cells of the stroma (eg, tumour-associated macrophages) in response to tumour growth factor-β1 and particularly CSC-secreted Nodal/ActivinA. Treatment of pancreatic CSCs with recombinant LL-37 increased pluripotency-associated gene expression, self-renewal, invasion and tumourigenicity via formyl peptide receptor 2 (FPR2)- and P2X purinoceptor 7 receptor (P2X7R)-dependent mechanisms, which could be reversed by inhibiting these receptors. Importantly, in a genetically engineered mouse model of K-Ras-driven pancreatic tumourigenesis, we also showed that tumour formation was inhibited by either reconstituting these mice with bone marrow from cathelicidin-related antimicrobial peptide (ie, murine homologue of hCAP-18/LL-37) knockout mice or by pharmacologically inhibiting FPR2 and P2X7R.

CONCLUSIONS: Thus, hCAP-18/LL-37 represents a previously unrecognised PDAC microenvironment factor that plays a critical role in pancreatic CSC-mediated tumourigenesis.

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