Resolution of Acinar Dedifferentiation Regulates Tissue Remodeling in Pancreatic Injury and Cancer Initiation

Gastroenterology. 2024 May 9:S0016-5085(24)04911-4. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2024.04.031. Online ahead of print.


Background & aims: Acinar-to-ductal metaplasia (ADM) is crucial in the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. However, our understanding of the induction and resolution of ADM remains limited. We conducted comparative transcriptome analyses to identify conserved mechanisms of ADM in mouse and human.

Methods: We identified Sox4 among the top up-regulated genes. We validated the analysis by RNA in situ hybridization. We performed experiments in mice with acinar-specific deletion of Sox4 (Ptf1a: CreER; Rosa26-LSL-YFPLSL-YFP; Sox4fl/fl) with and without an activating mutation in Kras (KrasLSL-G12D/+). Mice were given caerulein to induce pancreatitis. We performed phenotypic analysis by immunohistochemistry, tissue decellularization, and single-cell RNA sequencing.

Results: We demonstrated that Sox4 is reactivated in ADM and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasias. Contrary to findings in other tissues, Sox4 actually counteracts cellular dedifferentiation and helps maintain tissue homeostasis. Moreover, our investigations unveiled the indispensable role of Sox4 in the specification of mucin-producing cells and tuft-like cells from acinar cells. We identified Sox4-dependent non-cell-autonomous mechanisms regulating the stromal reaction during disease progression. Notably, Sox4-inferred targets are activated upon KRAS inactivation and tumor regression.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that our transcriptome analysis can be used to investigate conserved mechanisms of tissue injury. We demonstrate that Sox4 restrains acinar dedifferentiation and is necessary for the specification of acinar-derived metaplastic cells in pancreatic injury and cancer initiation and is activated upon Kras ablation and tumor regression in mice. By uncovering novel potential strategies to promote tissue homeostasis, our findings offer new avenues for preventing the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Keywords: ADM; Cancer Initiation; PDAC; Plasticity; Tuft Cells.