Emerging targets in pancreatic cancer: epithelial–mesenchymal transition and cancer stem cells
Jason A Castellanos,1 Nipun B Merchant,1–3 Nagaraj S Nagathihalli1–3
1Department of Surgery, 2Department of Cancer Biology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, USA; 3Vanderbilt-Ingram Comprehensive Cancer Center, Nashville, TN, USA
Abstract: Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is one of the most aggressive solid malignancies and is characterized by poor response to current therapy and a dismal survival rate. Recent insights regarding the role of cancer stem cells (CSCs) and epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) in tumorigenesis have brought further understanding to the field and have highlighted new therapeutic targets. CSCs are a distinct subset of cancer cells, with the ability to differentiate into other cell types and self-renew in order to fuel the maintenance of tumor amplification. Transition of a cancer cell from an EMT leads to increased migratory and invasive properties, and thus facilitates initiation of metastasis. EMT is regulated by a complex network of factors that includes cytokines, growth factors, aberrant signaling pathways, transcription factors, and the tumor microenvironment. There is emerging evidence that the EMT process may give rise to CSCs, or at least cells with stem cell-like properties. We review the key pathways involved in both of these processes, the biomarkers used to identify CSCs, and new therapeutic approaches targeting CSCs and EMT in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
Keywords: epithelial-mesenchymal transition, cancer stem cells, tumor microenvironment, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
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