Background: Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a highly lethal disease. Gemcitabine (GEM) is used as the gold standard drug in PDAC treatment. However, due to its poor efficacy, it remains urgent to identify novel strategies to overcome resistance issues. In this context, an intense stroma reaction and the presence of cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been shown to influence PDAC aggressiveness, metastatic potential, and chemoresistance.
Methods: We used three-dimensional (3D) organotypic cultures grown on an extracellular matrix composed of Matrigel or collagen I to test the effect of the new potential therapeutic prodrug 4-(N)-stearoyl-GEM, called C18GEM. We analyzed C18GEM cytotoxic activity, intracellular uptake, apoptosis, necrosis, and autophagy induction in both Panc1 cell line (P) and their derived CSCs.
Results: PDAC CSCs show higher sensitivity to C18GEM treatment when cultured in both two-dimensional (2D) and 3D conditions, especially on collagen I, in comparison to GEM. The intracellular uptake mechanisms of C18GEM are mainly due to membrane nucleoside transporters' expression and fatty acid translocase CD36 in Panc1 P cells and to clathrin-mediated endocytosis and CD36 in Panc1 CSCs. Furthermore, C18GEM induces an increase in cell death compared to GEM in both cell lines grown on 2D and 3D cultures. Finally, C18GEM stimulated protective autophagy in Panc1 P and CSCs cultured on 3D conditions.
Conclusion: We propose C18GEM together with autophagy inhibitors as a valid alternative therapeutic approach in PDAC treatment.
Keywords: 3D organotypic cultures; cancer stem cells; chemoresistance; extracellular matrix; gemcitabine; pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma; prodrug.