Background & aims: Promoted by pancreatitis, oncogenic KrasG12D triggers acinar cells' neoplastic transformation through acinar-to-ductal metaplasia (ADM) and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia. Anterior gradient 2 (Agr2), a known inhibitor of p53, is detected at early stage of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) development. RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) is a key nuclear enzyme; regulation of its nuclear localization in mammalian cells represents a potential therapeutic target.
Methods: A mouse model of inflammation-accelerated KrasG12D-driven ADM and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia development was used. Pancreas-specific Agr2 ablation was performed to access its role in pancreatic carcinogenesis. Hydrophobic hexapeptides loaded in liposomes were developed to disrupt Agr2-RNAPII complex.
Results: We found that Agr2 is up-regulated in ADM-to-pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia transition in inflammation and KrasG12D-driven early pancreatic carcinogenesis. Genetic ablation of Agr2 specifically blocks this metaplastic-to-neoplastic process. Mechanistically, Agr2 directs the nuclear import of RNAPII via its C-terminal nuclear localization signal, undermining the ATR-dependent p53 activation in ADM lesions. Because Agr2 binds to the largest subunit of RNAPII in a peptide motif-dependent manner, we developed a hexapeptide to interfere with the nuclear import of RNAPII by competitively disrupting the Agr2-RNAPII complex. This novel hexapeptide leads to dysfunction of RNAPII with concomitant activation of DNA damage response in early neoplastic lesions; hence, it dramatically compromises PDAC initiation in vivo. Moreover, the hexapeptide sensitizes PDAC cells and patient-derived organoids harboring wild-type p53 to RNAPII inhibitors and first-line chemotherapeutic agents in vivo. Of note, this therapeutic effect is efficient across various cancer types.
Conclusions: Agr2 is identified as a novel adaptor protein for nuclear import of RNAPII in mammalian cells. Also, we provide genetic evidence defining Agr2-dependent nuclear import of RNAPII as a pharmaceutically accessible target for prevention and treatment in PDAC in the context of wild-type p53.
Keywords: Agr2; Hexapeptide; Metaplastic; Neoplastic; Pancreatic Cancer.
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