Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is considered to be a highly immunosuppressive and heterogenous neoplasm. Despite improved knowledge regarding the genetic background of the tumor and better understanding of the tumor microenvironment, immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy (targeting CTLA4, PD1, PDL1) has not been very successful against PDAC. The robust desmoplastic stroma, along with an extensive extracellular matrix (ECM) that is rich in hyaluronan, plays an integral role in this immune evasion. Hexosamine biosynthesis pathway (HBP), a shunt pathway of glycolysis, is a metabolic node in cancer cells that can promote survival pathways on the one hand and influence the hyaluronan synthesis in the ECM on the other. The rate-limiting enzyme of the pathway, glutamine-fructose amidotransferase 1 (GFAT1), uses glutamine and fructose 6-phosphate to eventually synthesize uridine diphosphate N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc). In the current manuscript, we targeted this glutamine-utilizing enzyme by a small molecule glutamine analog (6-diazo-5-oxo-l-norleucine [DON]). Our results showed that DON decreased the self-renewal potential and metastatic ability of tumor cells. Further, treatment with DON decreased hyaluronan and collagen in the tumor microenvironment, leading to an extensive remodeling of the ECM and an increased infiltration of CD8+ T cells. Additionally, treatment with DON sensitized pancreatic tumors to anti-PD1 therapy, resulting in tumor regression and prolonged survival.
Keywords: Cancer immunotherapy; Extracellular matrix; Oncology.