Patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) face a clinically intractable disease with poor survival rates, attributed to exceptionally high levels of metastasis. Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is pronounced at inflammatory foci within the tumor; however, the immunological mechanisms promoting tumor dissemination remain unclear. It is well established that tumors exhibit the Warburg effect, a preferential use of glycolysis for energy production, even in the presence of oxygen, to support rapid growth. We hypothesized that the metabolic pathways utilized by tumor-infiltrating macrophages are altered in PDAC, conferring a pro-metastatic phenotype. We generated tumor-conditioned macrophages in vitro, in which human peripheral blood monocytes were cultured with conditioned media generated from normal pancreatic or PDAC cell lines to obtain steady-state and tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs), respectively. Compared with steady-state macrophages, TAMs promoted vascular network formation, augmented extravasation of tumor cells out of blood vessels, and induced higher levels of EMT. TAMs exhibited a pronounced glycolytic signature in a metabolic flux assay, corresponding with elevated glycolytic gene transcript levels. Inhibiting glycolysis in TAMs with a competitive inhibitor to Hexokinase II (HK2), 2-deoxyglucose (2DG), was sufficient to disrupt this pro-metastatic phenotype, reversing the observed increases in TAM-supported angiogenesis, extravasation, and EMT. Our results indicate a key role for metabolic reprogramming of tumor-infiltrating macrophages in PDAC metastasis, and highlight the therapeutic potential of using pharmacologics to modulate these metabolic pathways.
Keywords: Metabolism; macrophages; metastasis; pancreatic cancer.