The tumorigenic mechanism for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is not clear, although chronic inflammation is implicated. Here, we identified an inflammatory cytokine-regulated transfer RNA-derived (tRNA-derived) fragment, tRF-21-VBY9PYKHD (tRF-21), as a tumor suppressor in PDAC progression. We found that the biogenesis of tRF-21 could be inhibited by leukemia inhibitory factor and IL-6 via the splicing factor SRSF5. Reduced tRF-21 promoted AKT2/1-mediated heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein L (hnRNP L) phosphorylation, enhancing hnRNP L to interact with dead-box helicase 17 (DDX17) to form an alternative splicing complex. The provoked hnRNP L-DDX17 activity preferentially spliced Caspase 9 and mH2A1 pre-mRNAs to form Caspase 9b and mH2A1.2, promoting PDAC cell malignant phenotypes. The tRF-21 levels were significantly lower in PDACs than in normal tissues, and patients with low tRF-21 levels had a poor prognosis. Treatment of mouse PDAC xenografts or patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) with tRF-21 mimics repressed tumor growth and metastasis. These results demonstrate that tRF-21 has a tumor-suppressive effect and is a potential therapeutic agent for PDAC.
Keywords: Apoptosis; Cancer; Oncology; Therapeutics.