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. 2018 Dec 27;10(9):95-106.
doi: 10.4240/wjgs.v10.i9.95.

Molecular Therapeutic Strategies Targeting Pancreatic Cancer Induced Cachexia

Free PMC article

Molecular Therapeutic Strategies Targeting Pancreatic Cancer Induced Cachexia

Anastasiya Yakovenko et al. World J Gastrointest Surg. .
Free PMC article


Pancreatic cancer (PC) induced cachexia is a complex metabolic syndrome associated with significantly increased morbidity and mortality and reduced quality of life. The pathophysiology of cachexia is complex and poorly understood. Many molecular signaling pathways are involved in PC and cachexia. Though our understanding of cancer cachexia is growing, therapeutic options remain limited. Thus, further discovery and investigation of the molecular signaling pathways involved in the pathophysiology of cachexia can be applied to development of targeted therapies. This review focuses on three main pathophysiologic processes implicated in the development and progression of cachexia in PC, as well as their utility in the discovery of novel targeted therapies. Skeletal muscle wasting is the most prominent pathophysiologic anomaly in cachectic patients and driven by multiple regulatory pathways. Several known molecular pathways that mediate muscle wasting and cachexia include transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β), myostatin and activin, IGF-1/PI3K/AKT, and JAK-STAT signaling. TGF-β antagonism in cachectic mice reduces skeletal muscle catabolism and weight loss, while improving overall survival. Myostatin/activin inhibition has a great therapeutic potential since it plays an essential role in skeletal muscle regulation. Overexpression of insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) leads to increased ubiquitination associated proteolysis, inhibition of myogenesis, and decreased muscle mass in PC induced cachexia. IGFBP-3 antagonism alleviates muscle cell wasting. Another component of cachexia is profound systemic inflammation driven by pro-cachectic cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), and interferon gamma (INF-γ). IL-6 antagonism has been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce skeletal muscle loss, and ameliorate cachexia. While TNF-α inhibitors are clinically available, blocking TNF-α signaling is not effective in the treatment of cancer cachexia. Blocking the synthesis or action of acute phase reactants and cytokines is a feasible therapeutic strategy, but no anti-cytokine therapies are currently approved for use in PC. Metabolic alterations such as increased energy expenditure and gluconeogenesis, insulin resistance, fat tissue browning, excessive oxidative stress, and proteolysis with amino acid mobilization support tumor growth and the development of cachexia. Current innovative nutritional strategies for cachexia management include ketogenic diet, utilization of natural compounds such as silibinin, and supplementation with ω3-polyunsaturated fatty acids. Elevated ketone bodies exhibit an anticancer and anticachectic effect. Silibinin has been shown to inhibit growth of PC cells, induce metabolic alterations, and reduce myofiber degradation. Consumption of ω3-polyunsaturated fatty acids has been shown to significantly decrease resting energy expenditure and regulate metabolic dysfunction.

Keywords: Cachexia; Cachexia therapies; Molecular signaling; Muscle wasting; Pancreatic cancer.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict-of-interest statement: The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Signaling pathways involved in the pathophysiology of cachexia and targeted therapies. Multiple molecular signaling pathways and mediators lead to protein degradation and cancer cachexia including myostatin/ActRIIB, TGF-β, Smad 2/3, IL-6, TNFα, FoxO and JAK-STAT. These molecular signaling pathways serve as therapeutic strategies for treatment of cachexia. Pharmacologic inhibitors that have been used clinically or experimentally are labelled in red and specific targets are notated. TGF-β: Transforming growth factor-beta; IL-6: Interleukin-6; TNF-α: Tumor necrosis factor-alpha; ActRIIB: Activin type IIB.

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