Drug resistance and relapse remain key challenges in pancreatic cancer. Here, we have used RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-seq, and genome-wide CRISPR analysis to map the molecular dependencies of pancreatic cancer stem cells, highly therapy-resistant cells that preferentially drive tumorigenesis and progression. This integrated genomic approach revealed an unexpected utilization of immuno-regulatory signals by pancreatic cancer epithelial cells. In particular, the nuclear hormone receptor retinoic-acid-receptor-related orphan receptor gamma (RORγ), known to drive inflammation and T cell differentiation, was upregulated during pancreatic cancer progression, and its genetic or pharmacologic inhibition led to a striking defect in pancreatic cancer growth and a marked improvement in survival. Further, a large-scale retrospective analysis in patients revealed that RORγ expression may predict pancreatic cancer aggressiveness, as it positively correlated with advanced disease and metastasis. Collectively, these data identify an orthogonal co-option of immuno-regulatory signals by pancreatic cancer stem cells, suggesting that autoimmune drugs should be evaluated as novel treatment strategies for pancreatic cancer patients.
Keywords: Msi; Musashi; PDAC; RORg; cancer; cancer stem cells; cytokines; immune; pancreatic cancer; stem cells.
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