Targeting Wnt/tenascin C-mediated cross talk between pancreatic cancer cells and stellate cells via activation of the metastasis suppressor NDRG1

J Biol Chem. 2022 Mar;298(3):101608. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2022.101608. Epub 2022 Jan 20.


A major barrier to successful pancreatic cancer (PC) treatment is the surrounding stroma, which secretes growth factors/cytokines that promote PC progression. Wnt and tenascin C (TnC) are key ligands secreted by stromal pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) that then act on PC cells in a paracrine manner to activate the oncogenic β-catenin and YAP/TAZ signaling pathways. Therefore, therapies targeting oncogenic Wnt/TnC cross talk between PC cells and PSCs constitute a promising new therapeutic approach for PC treatment. The metastasis suppressor N-myc downstream-regulated gene-1 (NDRG1) inhibits tumor progression and metastasis in numerous cancers, including PC. We demonstrate herein that targeting NDRG1 using the clinically trialed anticancer agent di-2-pyridylketone-4-cyclohexyl-4-methyl-3-thiosemicarbazone (DpC) inhibited Wnt/TnC-mediated interactions between PC cells and the surrounding PSCs. Mechanistically, NDRG1 and DpC markedly inhibit secretion of Wnt3a and TnC by PSCs, while also attenuating Wnt/β-catenin and YAP/TAZ activation and downstream signaling in PC cells. This antioncogenic activity was mediated by direct inhibition of β-catenin and YAP/TAZ nuclear localization and by increasing the Wnt inhibitor, DKK1. Expression of NDRG1 also inhibited transforming growth factor (TGF)-β secretion by PC cells, a key mechanism by which PC cells activate PSCs. Using an in vivo orthotopic PC mouse model, we show DpC downregulated β-catenin, TnC, and YAP/TAZ, while potently increasing NDRG1 expression in PC tumors. We conclude that NDRG1 and DpC inhibit Wnt/TnC-mediated interactions between PC cells and PSCs. These results further illuminate the antioncogenic mechanism of NDRG1 and the potential of targeting this metastasis suppressor to overcome the oncogenic effects of the PC-PSC interaction.

Keywords: NDRG1; TnC; Wnt; pancreatic cancer; tumor microenvironment.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins* / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins* / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins* / genetics
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Pancreatic Stellate Cells* / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Stellate Cells* / pathology
  • Tenascin* / genetics
  • Tenascin* / metabolism
  • beta Catenin* / genetics
  • beta Catenin* / metabolism


  • CTNNB1 protein, mouse
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • N-myc downstream-regulated gene 1 protein
  • Tenascin
  • Tnc protein, mouse
  • beta Catenin