The role of epithelial cell-derived tumour necrosis Factor Alpha in pancreatic carcinogenesis
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Activating mutations of the kras proto-oncogene are found in more than 90 % of human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) and can result in increased activity of the NF-κB pathway, leading to constitutive production of proinflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α. Pancreatic cancer progression occurs through a series of pre-invasive lesions, pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasias (PanIN lesions), which progress into invasive carcinoma. The aim of this thesis is to understand the autocrine role of TNF-α produced by premalignant epithelial cells in pancreatic tumour progression. This cytokine has already been shown to be involved in the progression of cancer. The major hypothesis therefore tested was that TNF-α secreted by pre-malignant epithelial cells promotes the early stages of pancreatic carcinogenesis by sustaining an inflamed microenvironment. In the spontaneous kras+/LSL-G12D; pdx1-cre mouse model of pancreatic cancer, concomitant genetic deletion of the TNF-α/IKK2 pathway substantially delayed pancreatic cancer progression and resulted in downregulation of the classical Notch target genes hes1 and hey1. Cell lines from the different PanIN bearing mice were established and used to dissect the cooperation between TNF-α/IKK2 and Notch signalling during PanIN progression. Optimal expression of Notch target genes was induced upon TNF-α stimulation of the canonical NF-κB signalling pathway, in cooperation with basal Notch signals. Mechanistically, TNF-α stimulation resulted in phosphorylation of histone H3 at the hes1 promoter and this signal was lost upon ikk2 genetic deletion. HES1 suppressed the expression of pparg, which encodes for the anti-inflammatory nuclear receptor PPAR-γ. Thus, crosstalk between TNF-α/IKK2 and Notch sustained an intrinsic inflammatory profile of the transformed cells. The treatment of PanIN bearing mice with rosiglitazone, a PPAR-γ agonist, also delayed PanIN progression. A malignant cell-autonomous, low-grade inflammatory process was shown to operate from the very early stages of kras-driven pancreatic carcinogenesis, which may cooperate with the Notch signalling pathway to promote pancreatic cancer progression.
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