The Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1)-NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) system has a wide variety of effects in addition to the oxidative stress response, such as growth promotion and chemoresistance of cancer cells. Nrf2 is constitutively activated in most cancer cells. However, the activation of Nrf2 together with oncogenic mutations does not always result in cancer promotion. K-rasLSL-G12D/+:: p53LSL-R172H/+:: Pdx-1-Cre (KPC) mice are an established model of pancreatic cancer that specifically express mutants of both K-ras and p53 in the pancreas by using Pdx-1-Cre. We here generated Pdx-1-Cre::K-rasLSL-G12D/+:: Keap1fl/fl (KC::Keap1) and KPC:: Keap1fl/fl (KPC::Keap1) mice in which Nrf2 is constitutively activated by Keap1 deletion. KC::Keap1 and KPC::Keap1 mice started to die or showed obvious weakness at approximately around 40 days after birth. Histological examination revealed that KC::Keap1 and KPC::Keap1 mice did not develop pancreatic cancer but, instead, progressive atrophy of the pancreatic parenchyma. In these mice, amylase-positive acinar cells as well as insulin- and glucagon-positive islet cells were decreased and surrounded by fibrotic tissues. KC::Keap1 and KPC::Keap1 mice presented lower body weight and glucose levels than C::Keap1 mice, presumably resulting from pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. Histological changes were not obvious in C::Keap1 and PC::Keap1 mice. The presence of the p53 mutation did not affect the phenotypes in KC::Keap1 mice. Heterologous or homologous Nrf2 deletion ( Nrf2+/- or Nrf2-/-) rescued the pancreatic phenotypes, weight loss, and hypoglycemia in KC::Keap1 mice, suggesting that Nrf2 is a major downstream target of Keap1. In conclusion, simultaneous K-ras activation and Keap1 deletion caused progressive atrophy of the pancreatic parenchyma in mice. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Aberrant activation of the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1)-NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) system usually promotes carcinogenesis, and we assumed that simultaneous activation of K-ras and Nrf2 might promote pancreatic carcinogenesis. Conditional expression of mutant K-ras and Keap1 deletion did not result in pancreatic cancer development. Instead, these mice developed progressive loss of pancreatic parenchyma, accompanied by body weight loss and hypoglycemia, presumably because of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. Nrf2 activation by Keap1 deletion concomitant with K-ras activation cause pancreatic atrophy.
Keywords: Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1; NF-E2-related factor 2; exocrine pancreas; oxidative stress, pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer.