Intratumoral heterogeneity (ITH) is an intrinsic feature of malignant tumors that eventually allows a subfraction of resistant cancer cells to clonally evolve and cause therapy failure or relapse. ITH, cellular plasticity and tumor progression are driven by epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and the reverse process, MET. During these developmental programs, epithelial (E) cells are successively converted to invasive mesenchymal (M) cells, or back to E cells, by passing through a series of intermediate E/M states, a phenomenon termed E–M plasticity (EMP). The induction of MET has clinical potential as it can block the initial EMT stages that favor tumor cell dissemination, while its inhibition can curb metastatic outgrowth at distant sites. In pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), cellular models with which to study EMP or MET induction are scarce. Here, we have generated single cell‐derived clonal cultures of the quasimesenchymal PDAC-derived cell line, PANC‐1, and found that these differ strongly with respect to cell morphology and EMT marker expression, allowing for their tentative classification as E, E/M or M. Interestingly, the different EMT phenotypes were found to segregate with differences in tumorigenic potential in vitro, as measured by colony forming and invasive activities, and in circadian clock function. Moreover, the individual clones the phenotypes of which remained stable upon prolonged culture also responded differently to treatment with transforming growth factor (TGF)β1 in regard to regulation of growth and individual TGFβ target genes and to culture conditions that favour ductalto‐endocrine transdifferentiation as a more direct measure for cellular plasticity. Of note, stimulation with TGFβ1 induced a shift in parental PANC‐1 cultures towards a more extreme M and invasive phenotype, while exposing the cells to a combination of the proinflammatory cytokines IFNγ, IL1β and TNFα (IIT) elicited a shift towards a more E and less invasive phenotype resembling a MET‐like process. Finally, we show that the actions of TGFβ1 and IIT both converge on regulating the ratio of the small GTPase RAC1 and its splice isoform, RAC1b. Our data provide strong evidence for dynamic EMT–MET transitions and qualify this cell line as a useful model with which to study EMP.
Research Areas and Centers
- Centers: University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein (UCCSH)