Metabolic Dependencies in Pancreatic Cancer

Front Oncol. 2018 Dec 12;8:617. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2018.00617. eCollection 2018.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is a highly lethal cancer with a long-term survival rate under 10%. Available cytotoxic chemotherapies have significant side effects, and only marginal therapeutic efficacy. FDA approved drugs currently used against PDA target DNA metabolism and DNA integrity. However, alternative metabolic targets beyond DNA may prove to be much more effective. PDA cells are forced to live within a particularly severe microenvironment characterized by relative hypovascularity, hypoxia, and nutrient deprivation. Thus, PDA cells must possess biochemical flexibility in order to adapt to austere conditions. A better understanding of the metabolic dependencies required by PDA to survive and thrive within a harsh metabolic milieu could reveal specific metabolic vulnerabilities. These molecular requirements can then be targeted therapeutically, and would likely be associated with a clinically significant therapeutic window since the normal tissue is so well-perfused with an abundant nutrient supply. Recent work has uncovered a number of promising therapeutic targets in the metabolic domain, and clinicians are already translating some of these discoveries to the clinic. In this review, we highlight mitochondria metabolism, non-canonical nutrient acquisition pathways (macropinocytosis and use of pancreatic stellate cell-derived alanine), and redox homeostasis as compelling therapeutic opportunities in the metabolic domain.

Keywords: metabolic dependencies; metabolism; pancreatic cancer; redox homeostasis; targeting metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review