Axon guidance factor SLIT2 inhibits neural invasion and metastasis in pancreatic cancer

Cancer Res. 2014 Mar 1;74(5):1529-40. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-1012. Epub 2014 Jan 21.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) metastasizes by neural, vascular, and local invasion routes, which limit patient survival. In nerves and vessels, SLIT2 and its ROBO receptors constitute repellent guidance cues that also direct epithelial branching. Thus, the SLIT2-ROBO system may represent a key pinch point to regulate PDAC spread. In this study, we examined the hypothesis that escaping from repellent SLIT2-ROBO signaling is essential to enable PDAC cells to appropriate their local stromal infrastructure for dissemination. Through immunohistochemical analysis, we detected SLIT2 receptors ROBO1 and ROBO4 on epithelia, nerves, and vessels in healthy pancreas and PDAC specimens, respectively. SLIT2 mRNA expression was reduced in PDAC compared with nontransformed pancreatic tissues and cell lines, suggesting a reduction in SLIT2-ROBO pathway activity in PDAC. In support of this interpretation, restoring the SLIT2 expression in SLIT2-deficient PDAC cells inhibited their bidirectional chemoattraction with neural cells, and more specifically, impaired unidirectional PDAC cell navigation along outgrowing neurites in models of neural invasion. Restoring autocrine/paracrine SLIT2 signaling was also sufficient to inhibit the directed motility of PDAC cells, but not their random movement. Conversely, RNA interference-mediated silencing of ROBO1 stimulated the motility of SLIT2-competent PDAC cells. Furthermore, culture supernatants from SLIT2-competent PDAC cells impaired migration of endothelial cells (human umbilical vein endothelial cells), whereas an N-terminal SLIT2 cleavage fragment stimulated such migration. In vivo investigations of pancreatic tumors with restored SLIT2 expression demonstrated reduced invasion, metastasis, and vascularization, with opposing effects produced by ROBO1 silencing in tumor cells or sequestration of endogenous SLIT2. Analysis of clinical specimens of PDAC showed that those with low SLIT2 mRNA expression exhibited a higher incidence and a higher fraction of tumor-infiltrated lymph nodes. Taken together, our findings argue that disrupting SLIT2-ROBO signaling in PDAC may enhance metastasis and predispose PDAC cells to neural invasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / genetics
  • Chemotaxis / genetics
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / genetics
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics
  • Receptors, Immunologic / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • roundabout protein
  • Slit homolog 2 protein