Inhibition of ERK1/2 in cancer-associated pancreatic stellate cells suppresses cancer-stromal interaction and metastasis

Zilong Yan, Kenoki Ohuchida, Shuang Fei, Biao Zheng, Weiyu Guan, Haimin Feng, Shin Kibe, Yohei Ando, Kazuhiro Koikawa, Toshiya Abe, Chika Iwamoto, Koji Shindo, Taiki Moriyama, Kohei Nakata, Yoshihiro Miyasaka, Takao Ohtsuka, Kazuhiro Mizumoto, Makoto Hashizume, Masafumi Nakamura

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63 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) have been related to multiple cancers, including breast cancer, hepatocellular cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. ERK1/2 inhibitor can suppress growth of KRAS-mutant pancreatic tumors by targeting cancer cell. However, no studies have shown the expression of ERK1/2 on pancreatic stromal and its effect on pancreatic cancer-stromal interaction. Methods: Immunohistochemistry and western blotting were performed to detect the expression of p-ERK1/2 in pancreatic tissues and cells. Cell viability assay was used to study IC50 of ERK inhibitor on pancreatic cancer cells (PCCs) and primary cancer-associated pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs). Transwell migration, invasion, cell viability assay, senescence β-galactosidase staining were performed to determine the effect of ERK inhibitor on PCCs and PSCs in vitro and in vivo. The expression of key factors involved in autophagy and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) process were evaluated by western blotting. The expression of key factors related to cell invasiveness and malignancy were confirmed by qRT-PCR. Co-transplantation of PCC Organoid and PSC using a splenic xenograft mouse model was used to evaluated combined treatment of ERK inhibitor and autophagy inhibitor. Results: Immunohistochemical staining in pancreatic tumor samples and transgenetic mice detected p-ERK1/2 expression in both cancer cells and stromal cells. In pancreatic tissues, p-ERK1/2 was strongly expressed in cancer-associated PSCs compared with cancer cells and normal PSCs. PSCs were also significantly more sensitive to ERK1/2 inhibitor treatment. Inhibition of ERK1/2 suppressed EMT transition in HMPCCs, upregulated cellular senescence markers, activated autophagy in cancer-associated PSCs; and suppressed cancer-stromal interaction, which enhanced invasiveness and viability of cancer cells. We also found that chloroquine, an autophagy inhibitor, suppressed ERK inhibition-induced autophagy and promoted PSC cellular senescence, leading to significantly decreased cell proliferation. The combination of an ERK inhibitor and autophagy inhibitor suppressed liver metastasis in a splenic pancreatic cancer organoid xenograft mouse model. Conclusions: These data indicate that inhibition of ERK1/2 in cancer-associated pancreatic stellate cells suppresses cancer-stromal interaction and metastasis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number221
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 27 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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