The aggressiveness of pancreatic cancer is associated with the acquisition of mesenchymal characteristics by a subset of pancreatic cancer cells. The factors driving the development of this subset are not well understood. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that acquisition of a mesenchymal phenotype occurs selectively in tumor cells that harbor specific enabling genetic alterations. We obtained whole-genome comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) measurements on pancreatic cancer cell lines that have either an epithelial-like (17 cell lines) or a mesenchymal-like (9 cell lines) phenotype in vitro. The total amounts of amplifications and deletions were equivalent between the epithelial and mesenchymal groups, but 20 genes showed a major difference between the groups in prevalence of alterations. All 20 alterations (18 deletions and 2 amplifications) were more prevalent in the mesenchymal group, confirming the advanced nature of this cellular subtype. CDKN2A was altered in more than 50% of both groups, but co-deletions in neighboring genes, and concomitant loss of gene expression, were more prevalent in the mesenchymal group, suggesting that the size of the loss around CDKN2A affects cell phenotype. Whole-genome CGH on 11 primary cancer tissues revealed that the 20 genes were altered at a higher prevalence (up to 55% of the cases for certain genes) than randomly selected sets of 20 genes, with the same direction of alteration as in the cell lines. These findings support the concept that specific genetic alterations enable phenotype plasticity and provide promising candidate genes for further research.
Keywords: Cellular plasticity; Comparative genomic hybridization; Epithelial–mesenchymal transition; Metastasis; Pancreatic cancer aggressiveness.
Copyright © 2014 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.