Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress initiates an important mechanism for cell adaptation and survival, named the unfolded protein response (UPR). Severe or chronic/prolonged UPR can breach the threshold for survival and lead to cell death. There is a fundamental gap in knowledge on the molecular mechanism of how chronic ER stress is stimulated and leads to cell death in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Our study shows that downregulating specificity protein 1 (Sp1), a transcription factor that is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer, activates UPR and results in chronic ER stress. In addition, downregulation of Sp1 results in its decreased binding to the ER stress response element present in the promoter region of Grp78, the master regulator of ER stress, thereby preventing homeostasis. We further show that inhibition of Sp1, as well as induction of ER stress, leads to lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP), a sustained accumulation of cytosolic calcium, and eventually cell death in pancreatic cancer.
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