Enhanced morphological and functional differences of pancreatic cancer with epithelial or mesenchymal characteristics in 3D culture

Sci Rep. 2019 Jul 26;9(1):10871. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-47416-w.


Pancreatic cancer, composed of heterogeneous cancer cells, alters epithelial to mesenchymal features during growth and metastasis. In this study, we aimed to characterize pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cells showing epithelial or mesenchymal features in 3D culture. In 3D culture, PK-1 cells had high E-cadherin and low vimentin expression and exhibited a round-like appearance encircled by flat cells. PANC-1 cells had high vimentin and low E-cadherin expression and formed grape-like spheres. PK-1 cells had secretary granules and many microvilli, desmosomes, and adherens junctions, while PANC-1 cells had few microvilli, adherens junction, and no desmosomes. Cytokeratin 7, trypsin, CA19-9, and E-cadherin were highly expressed in PK-1 cells but not in PANC-1 cells. Ki-67 was diffusely expressed in PANC-1 spheres but was restricted to the peripheral flat cells of PK-1 spheres. PANC-1 and PK-1 cells were positive for transforming growth factor (TGF) β receptor II and phosphorylated smad2/3, but PK-1 cells were smad4 negative. Taken together, 3D culture enhanced morphofunctional differences of PDAC cells showing epithelial or mesenchymal characteristics, and epithelial phenotype maintenance may be due to the ineffectiveness of the TGF- β pathway. Clarification of heterogeneity using 3D culture may be useful for development of individualized diagnostic and therapeutic methods in patients with PDAC.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate / metabolism
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology*
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Shape
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Desmosomes / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Keratin-7 / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Vimentin / metabolism


  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate
  • Cadherins
  • Keratin-7
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Vimentin
  • carbohydrate antigen 199, human