Single-cell RNA-seq reveals the genesis and heterogeneity of tumor microenvironment in pancreatic undifferentiated carcinoma with osteoclast-like giant-cells

Mol Cancer. 2022 Jun 22;21(1):133. doi: 10.1186/s12943-022-01596-8.


Background: Undifferentiated carcinoma with osteoclast-like giant cells (OGCs) of pancreas (UCOGCP) is a rare subtype of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which had poorly described histopathological and clinical features.

Methods: In this study, single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) was used to profile the distinct tumor microenvironment of UCOGCP using samples obtained from one UCOGCP patient and three PDAC patients. Bioinformatic analysis was carried out and immunohistochemical (IHC) staining was used to support the findings of bioinformatic analysis. After quality control of the raw data, a total of 18,376 cells were obtained from these four samples for subsequent analysis. These cells were divided into ten main cell types following the Seurat analysis pipeline. Among them, the UCOGCP sample displayed distinct distribution patterns from the rest samples in the epithelial cell, myeloid cell, fibroblast, and endothelial cell clusters. Further analysis supported that the OGCs were generated from stem-cell-like mesenchymal epithelial cells (SMECs).

Results: Functional analysis showed that the OGCs cluster was enriched in antigen presentation, immune response, and stem cell differentiation. Gene markers such as LOX, SPERINE1, CD44, and TGFBI were highly expressed in this SMECs cluster which signified poor prognosis. Interestingly, in myeloid cell, fibroblasts, and endothelial cell clusters, UCOGCP contained higher percentage of these cells and unique subclusters, compared with the rest of PDAC samples.

Conclusions: Analysis of cell communication depicted that CD74 plays important roles in the formation of the microenvironment of UCOGCP. Our findings illustrated the genesis and function of OGCs, and the tumor microenvironment (TME) of UCOGCP, providing insights for prognosis and treatment strategy for this rare type of pancreatic cancer.

Keywords: PDAC; Pancreatic cancer; Tumor microenvironment; UCOGCP; scRNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma* / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal* / pathology
  • Giant Cells / chemistry
  • Giant Cells / metabolism
  • Giant Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Osteoclasts / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / pathology
  • RNA-Seq
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Supplementary concepts

  • Pancreatic Carcinoma