Autotaxin Secretion Is a Stromal Mechanism of Adaptive Resistance to TGFβ Inhibition in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma

Cancer Res. 2024 Jan 2;84(1):118-132. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-23-0104.


The TGFβ receptor inhibitor galunisertib demonstrated efficacy in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) in the randomized phase II H9H-MC-JBAJ study, which compared galunisertib plus the chemotherapeutic agent gemcitabine with gemcitabine alone. However, additional stromal paracrine signals might confer adaptive resistance that limits the efficacy of this therapeutic strategy. Here, we found that autotaxin, a secreted enzyme that promotes inflammation and fibrosis by generating lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), mediates adaptive resistance to TGFβ receptor inhibition. Blocking TGFβ signaling prompted the skewing of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF) toward an inflammatory (iCAF) phenotype. iCAFs were responsible for a significant secretion of autotaxin. Paracrine autotaxin increased LPA-NFκB signaling in tumor cells that triggered treatment resistance. The autotaxin inhibitor IOA-289 suppressed NFκB activation in PDAC cells and overcame resistance to galunisertib and gemcitabine. In immunocompetent orthotopic murine models, IOA-289 synergized with galunisertib in restoring sensitivity to gemcitabine. Most importantly, treatment with galunisertib significantly increased plasma levels of autotaxin in patients enrolled in the H9H-MC-JBAJ study, and median progression-free survival was significantly longer in patients without an increase of autotaxin upon treatment with galunisertib compared with those with increased autotaxin. These results establish that autotaxin secretion by CAFs is increased by TGFβ inhibition and that circulating autotaxin levels predict response to the combination treatment approach of gemcitabine plus galunisertib.

Significance: TGFβ inhibition skews cancer-associated fibroblasts toward an inflammatory phenotype that secretes autotaxin to drive adaptive resistance in PDAC, revealing autotaxin as a therapeutic target and biomarker of galunisertib response.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal* / pathology
  • Gemcitabine
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta


  • Gemcitabine
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta