Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most metastatic and deadly cancers. Despite the clinical significance of metastatic spread, our understanding of molecular mechanisms that drive PDAC metastatic ability remains limited. By generating a genetically engineered mouse model of human PDAC, we uncover a transient subpopulation of cancer cells with exceptionally high metastatic ability. Global gene expression profiling and functional analyses uncovered the transcription factor BLIMP1 as a driver of PDAC metastasis. The highly metastatic PDAC subpopulation is enriched for hypoxia-induced genes, and hypoxia-mediated induction of BLIMP1 contributes to the regulation of a subset of hypoxia-associated gene expression programs. These findings support a model in which upregulation of BLIMP1 links microenvironmental cues to a metastatic stem cell character.Significance: PDAC is an almost uniformly lethal cancer, largely due to its tendency for metastasis. We define a highly metastatic subpopulation of cancer cells, uncover a key transcriptional regulator of metastatic ability, and define hypoxia as an important factor within the tumor microenvironment that increases metastatic proclivity. Cancer Discov; 7(10); 1184-99. ©2017 AACR.See related commentary by Vakoc and Tuveson, p. 1067This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1047.
©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.