According to the cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis, the aggressive growth and early metastasis of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is due to the activity of CSCs, which are not targeted by current therapies. Otto Warburg suggested that the growth of cancer cells is driven by a high glucose metabolism. Here, we investigated whether glycolysis inhibition targets CSCs and thus may enhance therapeutic efficacy. Four established and 3 primary PDA cell lines, non-malignant cells, and 3 patient-tumor-derived CSC-enriched spheroidal cultures were analyzed by glucose turnover measurements, MTT and ATP assays, flow cytometry of ALDH1 activity and annexin positivity, colony and spheroid formation, western blotting, electrophoretic mobility shift assay, xenotransplantation, and immunohistochemistry. The effect of siRNA-mediated inhibition of LDH-A and LDH-B was also investigated. The PDA cells exhibited a high glucose metabolism, and glucose withdrawal or LDH inhibition by siRNA prevented growth and colony formation. Treatment with the anti-glycolytic agent 3-bromopyruvate almost completely blocked cell viability, self-renewal potential, NF-?B binding activity, and stem cell-related signaling and reverted gemcitabine resistance. 3-bromopyruvate was less effective in weakly malignant PDA cells and did not affect non-malignant cells, predicting minimal side effects. 3-bromopyruvate inhibited in vivo tumor engraftment and growth on chicken eggs and mice and enhanced the efficacy of gemcitabine by influencing the expression of markers of proliferation, apoptosis, self-renewal, and metastasis. Most importantly, primary CSC-enriched spheroidal cultures were eliminated by 3-bromopyruvate. These findings propose that CSCs may be specifically dependent on a high glucose turnover and suggest 3-bromopyruvate for therapeutic intervention.
The extreme aggressiveness of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) has been associated with blocked gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) and the presence of cancer stem cells (CSCs). We examined whether disturbed GJIC is responsible for a CSC phenotype in established and primary cancer cells and patient tissue of PDA using interdisciplinary methods based in physiology, cell and molecular biology, histology and epigenetics. Flux of fluorescent dyes and gemcitabine through gap junctions (GJs) was intact in less aggressive cells but not in highly malignant cells with morphological dysfunctional GJs. Among several connexins, only Cx43 was expressed on the cell surface of less aggressive and GJIC-competent cells, whereas Cx43 surface expression was absent in highly malignant, E-cadherin-negative and GJIC-incompetent cells. The levels of total Cx43 protein and Cx43 phosphorylated at Ser368 and Ser279/282 were high in normal tissue but low to absent in malignant tissue. si-RNA-mediated inhibition of Cx43 expression in GJIC-competent cells prevented GJIC and induced colony formation and the expression of stem cell-related factors. The bioactive substance sulforaphane enhanced Cx43 and E-cadherin levels, inhibited the CSC markers c-Met and CD133, improved the functional morphology of GJs and enhanced GJIC. Sulforaphane altered the phosphorylation of several kinases and their substrates and inhibition of GSK3, JNK and PKC prevented sulforaphane-induced CX43 expression. The sulforaphane-mediated expression of Cx43 was not correlated with enhanced Cx43 RNA expression, acetylated histone binding and Cx43 promoter de-methylation, suggesting that posttranslational phosphorylation is the dominant regulatory mechanism. Together, the absence of Cx43 prevents GJIC and enhances aggressiveness, whereas sulforaphane counteracts this process, and our findings highlight dietary co-treatment as a viable treatment option for PDA.
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