The poor prognosis for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) impels an improved understanding of disease biology to facilitate the development of better therapies. PDAC typically features a remarkably dense stromal reaction, featuring and established by a prominent population of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF). Genetically engineered mouse models and increasingly sophisticated cell culture techniques have demonstrated important roles for fibroblasts in PDAC progression and therapy response, but these roles are complex, with strong evidence for both tumor-supportive and tumor-suppressive or homeostatic functions. Here, we review the recent literature that has improved our understanding of heterogeneity in fibroblast fate and function in this disease including the existence of distinct fibroblast populations, and highlight important avenues for future study. SIGNIFICANCE: Although the abundant stromal reaction associated with pancreatic cancer has long been appreciated, the functions of the CAF cells that establish this stromal reaction remain unclear. An improved understanding of the transcriptional and functional heterogeneity of pancreatic CAFs, as well as their tumor-supportive versus tumor-suppressive capacity, may facilitate the development of effective therapies for this disease.
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.