Treatment-associated remodeling of the pancreatic cancer endothelium at single-cell resolution

Front Oncol. 2022 Sep 16;12:929950. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2022.929950. eCollection 2022.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most treatment refractory and lethal malignancies. The diversity of endothelial cell (EC) lineages in the tumor microenvironment (TME) impacts the efficacy of antineoplastic therapies, which in turn remodel EC states and distributions. Here, we present a single-cell resolution framework of diverse EC lineages in the PDAC TME in the context of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and losartan. We analyzed a custom single-nucleus RNA-seq dataset derived from 37 primary PDAC specimens (18 untreated, 14 neoadjuvant FOLFIRINOX + chemoradiotherapy, 5 neoadjuvant FOLFIRINOX + chemoradiotherapy + losartan). A single-nucleus transcriptome analysis of 15,185 EC profiles revealed two state programs (ribosomal, cycling), four lineage programs (capillary, arterial, venous, lymphatic), and one program that did not overlap significantly with prior signatures but was enriched in pathways involved in vasculogenesis, stem-like state, response to wounding and hypoxia, and endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (reactive EndMT). A bulk transcriptome analysis of two independent cohorts (n = 269 patients) revealed that the lymphatic and reactive EndMT lineage programs were significantly associated with poor clinical outcomes. While losartan and proton therapy were associated with reduced lymphatic ECs, these therapies also correlated with an increase in reactive EndMT. Thus, the development and inclusion of EndMT-inhibiting drugs (e.g., nintedanib) to a neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy regimen featuring losartan and/or proton therapy may be most effective in depleting both lymphatic and reactive EndMT populations and potentially improving patient outcomes.

Keywords: endothelial cells; losartan; pancreatic cancer; radiotherapy – chemotherapy; single-cell transcriptomics.