Transcriptional control of subtype switching ensures adaptation and growth of pancreatic cancer
- Author(s): Adams, Christina
- Advisor(s): Perera, Rushika
- et al.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is a heterogeneous disease comprised of a basal-like subtype with mesenchymal gene signatures, undifferentiated histopathology and worse prognosis compared to the classical subtype. Despite their prognostic and therapeutic value, the key drivers that establish and control subtype identity remain unknown. Here we demonstrate that PDA subtypes are not permanently encoded and identify the GLI2 transcription factor as a master regulator of subtype inter- conversion. GLI2 is elevated in basal-like PDA lines and patient specimens and forced GLI2 activation is sufficient to convert classical PDA cells to basal-like. Mechanistically, GLI2 upregulates expression of the pro-tumorigenic secreted protein, Osteopontin (OPN), which is especially critical for metastatic growth in vivo and adaptation to oncogenic KRAS ablation. Accordingly, elevated GLI2 and OPN levels predict shortened overall survival of PDA patients. Thus, the GLI2-OPN circuit is a driver of PDA cell plasticity that establishes and maintains an aggressive variant of this disease.