Tumor Microenvironment Remodeling Enables Bypass of Oncogenic KRAS Dependency in Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer Discov. 2020 Jul;10(7):1058-1077. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-19-0597. Epub 2020 Apr 27.


Oncogenic KRAS (KRAS*) is a key tumor maintenance gene in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), motivating pharmacologic targeting of KRAS* and its effectors. Here, we explored mechanisms involving the tumor microenvironment (TME) as a potential basis for resistance to targeting KRAS*. Using the inducible Kras G12D;Trp53 -/- PDAC mouse model, gain-of-function screens of epigenetic regulators identified HDAC5 as the top hit enabling KRAS* independent tumor growth. HDAC5-driven escaper tumors showed a prominent neutrophil-to-macrophage switch relative to KRAS*-driven tumors. Mechanistically, HDAC5 represses Socs3, a negative regulator of chemokine CCL2, resulting in increased CCL2, which recruits CCR2+ macrophages. Correspondingly, enforced Ccl2 promotes macrophage recruitment into the TME and enables tumor recurrence following KRAS* extinction. These tumor-associated macrophages in turn provide cancer cells with trophic support including TGFβ to enable KRAS* bypass in a SMAD4-dependent manner. Our work uncovers a KRAS* resistance mechanism involving immune cell remodeling of the PDAC TME. SIGNIFICANCE: Although KRAS* is required for PDAC tumor maintenance, tumors can recur following KRAS* extinction. The capacity of PDAC cancer cells to alter the TME myeloid cell composition to support KRAS*-independent tumor growth illuminates novel therapeutic targets that may enhance the effectiveness of therapies targeting KRAS* and its pathway components.See related commentary by Carr and Fernandez-Zapico, p. 910.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 890.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Oncogenes / physiology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / metabolism*
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • KRAS protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)

Supplementary concepts

  • Pancreatic Carcinoma