Fibulin-5 Promotes Pancreatic Tumor Growth through Inhibition of Integrin-induced ROS: Insights into Tumor-Matrix Signaling



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Elevated oxidative stress is an aberration seen in many solid tumors, and exploiting this biochemical difference has the potential to enhance the efficacy of anti-cancer agents. Homeostasis of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is important for normal cell function, but excessive production of ROS can result in cellular toxicity and therefore ROS levels must be balanced finely. Here, we highlight the relationship between the extracellular matrix and ROS production by reporting a novel function of the matricellular protein Fibulin-5 (Fbln5). We found that Fbln5 is abundantly expressed in mouse and human pancreatic cancer compared to normal pancreas. By employing genetically engineered mouse models of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), we showed that mutation of the integrin-binding domain of Fbln5 led to decreased tumor growth, increased survival, and enhanced chemoresponse to standard PDA therapies. Through mechanistic investigations, we found that improved survival was due to increased levels of oxidative stress in Fbln5 mutant tumors. Furthermore, loss of the Fbln5-integrin interaction augmented fibronectin (FN) signaling, driving integrin-induced ROS production in a 5-lipooxygenase-dependent manner. These data indicate that Fbln5 promotes PDA progression by functioning as a molecular rheostat that modulates cell-ECM interactions to reduce ROS production and thus tip the balance in favor of tumor cell survival and treatment-refractory disease.
The latter part of this thesis is focused on the underlying mechanism that leads to upregulation of Fbln5 in PDA. The deposition of ECM is a defining feature of PDA where ECM signaling can promote cancer cell survival and epithelial plasticity programs. ECM-mediated signaling is governed by expression of the ECM proteins, the presence of cell surface receptors and the expression and activity of matricellular proteins that function as extracellular adaptors to reduce ECM-cell interaction. As stated above, Fbln5 is a matricellular protein that blocks FN-integrin interaction and thus directly limits ECM-driven ROS production and supports PDA progression. Compared to normal pancreatic tissue, Fbln5 is expressed abundantly in the stroma of PDA; however, the mechanisms underlying the stimulation of Fbln5 expression in PDA are undefined. Using in vitro and in vivo approaches, we report that hypoxia triggers Fbln5 expression in a transforming growth factor β (TGF-β)- and PI3K-dependent manner. Pharmacologic inhibition of TGF-β receptor (TGF-βR), PI3K, or protein kinase B (AKT) was found to block hypoxia-induced Fbln5 expression in mouse embryonic fibroblasts and 3T3 fibroblasts. Moreover, tumor-associated fibroblasts from mouse PDA were also responsive to TGF-βR and PI3K/Akt inhibition with regard to suppression of Fbln5. In genetically engineered mouse models of PDA, therapy-induced hypoxia elevated Fbln5 expression while pharmacologic inhibition of TGF-β signaling reduced Fbln5 expression. These findings offer insight into the signaling axis that induces Fbln5 expression in PDA and a potential strategy to block its production.

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