Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is a devastating disease with an abysmal survival rate of 9%. A robust fibro-inflammatory and desmoplastic stroma, characteristic of pancreatic cancer, contribute to the challenges in developing viable therapeutic strategies in this disease. Apart from constricting blood vessels and preventing efficient drug delivery to the tumor, the stroma also contributes to the aggressive biology of cancer along with its immune-evasive microenvironment. In this study, we show that in pancreatic tumors, the developing stroma increases tumor initiation frequency in pancreatic cancer cells in vivo by enriching for CD133 + aggressive “stem-like” cells. Additionally, the stromal fibroblasts secrete IL6 as the major cytokine, increases glycolytic flux in the pancreatic tumor cells, and increases lactate efflux in the microenvironment via activation of the STAT signaling pathway. We also show that the secreted lactate favors activation of M2 macrophages in the tumor microenvironment, which excludes CD8 + T cells in the tumor. Our data additionally confirms that the treatment of pancreatic tumors with anti-IL6 antibody results in tumor regression as well as decreased CD133 + population within the tumor. Furthermore, inhibiting the lactate efflux in the microenvironment reduces M2 macrophages, and makes pancreatic tumors more responsive to anti-PD1 therapy. This suggests that stromal IL6 driven metabolic reprogramming plays a significant role in the development of an immune-evasive microenvironment. In conclusion, our study shows that targeting the metabolic pathways affected by stromal IL6 can make pancreatic tumors amenable to checkpoint inhibitor therapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research