MUC1-C Dictates Neuroendocrine Lineage Specification in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinomas

Carcinogenesis. 2021 Oct 17;bgab097. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgab097. Online ahead of print.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAC) and poorly differentiated pancreatic neuroendocrine (NE) carcinomas are KRAS mutant malignancies with a potential common cell of origin. PDAC ductal, but not NE, lineage traits have been associated with cell-intrinsic activation of interferon (IFN) pathways. The present studies demonstrate that MUC1-C, which evolved to protect mammalian epithelia from loss of homeostasis, is aberrantly overexpressed in KRAS mutant PDAC tumors and cell lines. We show that MUC1-C is necessary for activation of the type I and II IFN pathways and for expression of the Yamanaka OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and MYC (OSKM) pluripotency factors. Our results demonstrate that MUC1-C integrates IFN signaling and pluripotency with NE dedifferentiation by forming a complex with MYC and driving the (i) ASCL1 and BRN2/POU3F2 neural, and (ii) NOTCH1/2 stemness transcription factors. Of translational relevance, targeting MUC1-C genetically and pharmacologically in PDAC cells (i) suppresses OSKM, NE dedifferentiation and NOTCH1/2, and (ii) inhibits self-renewal capacity and tumorigenicity. In PDAC tumors, we show that MUC1 significantly associates with activation of IFN signaling, MYC and NOTCH, and that upregulation of the MUC1-C➝MYC pathway confers a poor prognosis. These findings indicate that MUC1-C dictates PDAC NE lineage specification and is a potential target for the treatment of recalcitrant pancreatic carcinomas with NE dedifferentiation.

Keywords: MUC1-C; MYC; NOTCH; PDAC; dedifferentiation; neuroendocrine.