Pancreatic cancer (PC) has the poorest overall survival rate among all human cancers because of late diagnosis and absence of screening tools. We compared the expression profile of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the plasma of patients diagnosed with PC (n=50) with healthy volunteers (n=10). Data was further validated by quantitative realtime PCR and cell-based assays. Thirty-seven miRNAs were down-regulated and 54 were up-regulated in plasma from patients with PC. The expression of miR-21 was significantly higher, and the expression of let-7 family (especially let-7d) and miR-146a was significantly lower in PC. Most interestingly, the expression of miR-21 was correlated with worse survival, and the expression of let-7 was inversely correlated with survival in this pilot study with mixed patient population. Moreover, we found that miR-21 family was markedly over-expressed in chemo-resistant PC cell lines, which was consistent with the plasma data from PC patients. Our previous studies have shown increased expression of miR-21 with concomitant loss of PTEN expression in PC cells, which is consistent with our current findings showing the loss of three additional targets of miR-21 (PDCD4, Maspin and TPM1). These results suggest that identifying and validating the expression of miRNAs in newly diagnosed patients could serve as potential biomarker for tumor aggressiveness, and such miRNAs could be useful for the screening of high-risk patients, and may also serve as targets for future drug development.
Keywords: Drug Resistance; PTEN; Pancreatic cancer; let-7d; miR-21; miR-221.