Overexpression of receptor tyrosine kinase Axl promotes tumor cell invasion and survival in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

Cancer. 2011 Feb 15;117(4):734-43. doi: 10.1002/cncr.25483. Epub 2010 Oct 4.


Background: The receptor tyrosine kinase Axl has been reported to be overexpressed in a variety of human cancers. Although previous studies have identified the role of Axl in the transformation, proliferation, survival, and invasion in cancers, the expression and functions of Axl in pancreatic cancer have not been studied in detail.

Methods: The expression of Axl protein in 12 pancreatic cancer cell lines and 54 patient samples of stage II pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) and their paired non-neoplastic pancreatic tissue samples were examined. Using univariate and multivariate analysis, Axl expression was correlated with survival and other clinicopathologic features. To examine Axl functions in PDA, the effects of Axl knockdown on the invasion ability and radiation-induced apoptosis in PDA cell lines were measured.

Results: Axl was overexpressed in 38 of 54 (70%) stage II PDA samples and 9 of 12 (75%) PDA cell lines. Axl overexpression was associated with higher frequencies of distant metastasis and poor overall and recurrence-free survivals (P = .03 and P = .04, respectively) independent of tumor size and stage or lymph node status in patients with stage II PDA. Knockdown of Axl expression in PDA cells abolished Gas6-mediated Akt activation, decreased invasion, and increased radiation-induced PARP cleavage and the percentage of apoptosis.

Conclusions: This study showed that Gas6 and Axl are frequently overexpressed in PDA cells and are associated with a poor prognosis in patients with stage II PDA. Axl promotes the invasion and survival of PDA cells. Therefore, targeting the Axl signaling pathway may represent a new approach to the treatment of PDA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics*
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacology
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation


  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • growth arrest-specific protein 6
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • axl receptor tyrosine kinase