Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is moderately responsive to gemcitabine-based chemotherapy, the most widely used single-agent therapy for pancreatic cancer. Although the prognosis in pancreatic cancer remains grim in part due to poor response to therapy, previous attempts at identifying and targeting the resistance mechanisms have not been very successful. By leveraging The Cancer Genome Atlas dataset, we identified lipid metabolism as the metabolic pathway that most significantly correlated with poor gemcitabine response in pancreatic cancer patients. Furthermore, we investigated the relationship between alterations in lipogenesis pathway and gemcitabine resistance by utilizing tissues from the genetically engineered mouse model and human pancreatic cancer patients. We observed a significant increase in fatty acid synthase (FASN) expression with increasing disease progression in spontaneous pancreatic cancer mouse model, and a correlation of high FASN expression with poor survival in patients and poor gemcitabine responsiveness in cell lines. We observed a synergistic effect of FASN inhibitors with gemcitabine in pancreatic cancer cells in culture and orthotopic implantation models. Combination of gemcitabine and the FASN inhibitor orlistat significantly diminished stemness, in part due to induction of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress that resulted in apoptosis. Moreover, direct induction of ER stress with thapsigargin caused a similar decrease in stemness and showed synergistic activity with gemcitabine. Our in vivo studies with orthotopic implantation models demonstrated a robust increase in gemcitabine responsiveness upon inhibition of fatty acid biosynthesis with orlistat. Altogether, we demonstrate that fatty acid biosynthesis pathway manipulation can help overcome the gemcitabine resistance in pancreatic cancer by regulating ER stress and stemness.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research