Background/aims: Carcinoma invasion and metastasis in general involve multiple steps including dynamic changes in the composition and structure of extracellular matrix proteins and cell surface receptors. In the present study, the usually highly invasive carcinoma of the pancreas was investigated regarding the expression of various extracellular matrix proteins and their corresponding integrin receptors, as well as E-cadherin.
Methodology: Phenotypic expression of various markers was investigated immunohistochemically in frozen sections of 16 pancreatic carcinomas and normal pancreatic tissue.
Results: An irregular and discontinuous deposition of type IV collagen and laminin in the basement membrane was found in cancer tissue and a pronounced desmoplastic reaction with deposition of type I, type III, and type IV collagen in the tumor stroma. In contrast, the noninvolved pancreas showed an intact basement membrane and a sparse stroma. The collagen type IV and laminin receptors alpha 2, alpha 3, and beta 1 integrin subunits were expressed on pancreatic cancer cells but not the alpha 6 integrin subunit normally present on epithelial cells, suggesting anchorage independence of the carcinoma cells. An increased capacity for cancer cell motility was suggested by the abundant expression of the "antiadhesive" extracellular matrix proteins, tenascin and vitronectin close to the cancer cells, and the expression of cell surface receptors such as alpha v (vitronectin-binding). Expression of the alpha 4 integrin subunit was also increased on cancer cells.
Conclusions: The distribution of extracellular matrix proteins and the cell surface immune phenotype differed in pancreatic carcinoma as compared to normal pancreatic tissue. The present findings substantiate the notion that disseminated growth of highly malignant carcinomas of the pancreas reflects an invasive interaction of the tumor cells with extracellular matrix proteins of a well-established stroma. Similar findings were observed regardless of tumor histology and patient survival time.