Initiation of Pancreatic Cancer : The Interplay of Hyperglycemia and Macrophages Promotes the Acquisition of Malignancy-Associated Properties in Pancreatic Ductal Epithelial Cells

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is still one of the most aggressive solid malignancies with a poor prognosis. Obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) are two major risk factors linked to the development and progression of PDAC, both often characterized by high blood glucose levels. Macrophages represent the main immune cell population in PDAC contributing to PDAC development. It has already been shown that pancreatic ductal epithelial cells (PDEC) undergo epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) when exposed to hyperglycemia or macrophages. Thus, this study aimed to investigate whether concomitant exposure to hyperglycemia and macrophages aggravates EMT-associated alterations in PDEC. Exposure to macrophages and elevated glucose levels (25 mM glucose) impacted gene expression of EMT inducers such as IL-6 and TNF-α as well as EMT transcription factors in benign (H6c7-pBp) and premalignant (H6c7-kras) PDEC. Most strikingly, exposure to hyperglycemic coculture with macrophages promoted downregulation of the epithelial marker E-cadherin, which was associated with an elevated migratory potential of PDEC. While blocking IL-6 activity by tocilizumab only partially reverted the EMT phenotype in H6c7-kras cells, neutralization of TNF-α by etanercept was able to clearly impair EMT-associated properties in premalignant PDEC. Altogether, the current study attributes a role to a T2DM-related hyperglycemic, inflammatory micromilieu in the acquisition of malignancy-associated alterations in premalignant PDEC, thus providing new insights on how metabolic diseases might promote PDAC initiation.


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