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Retinoic acid can induce markers of endocrine transdifferentiation in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma: preliminary observations from an in vitro cell line model


Background and hypothesis: The pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (HPAF) cells have a multipotent stem cell potential. It was hypothesised that all-trans-retinoic acid (atRA) can induce transdifferentiation of these cells into cells with an endocrine phenotype.

Material and methods: To explore this hypothesis, an in vitro system of cells was established. Some cells were treated with atRA at concentrations of 100 nmol/l (non-apoptosis-inducing) and 5 μmol/l (apoptosis-inducing) and harvested. Cells were examined for cell cycle kinetics, apoptosis (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase assay and p53 protein expression) and immunomorphological features of redifferentiation (MUC1 and DUPAN-2) and endocrine transdifferentiation (insulin, somatostatin, glucagon, neurone-specific enolase) by using immunoperoxidase staining methods. Levels of insulin, transforming growth factor (TGF) β2, TGFα and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The vehicle-treated cells served as a control group.

Results: When compared with untreated cells, cells treated with 100 nmol/l and 5 μmol/l atRA were observed to show (1) decreased proliferative activity (cpm) as indicated by decreased incorporation of thymidine labelled with hydrogen-3; (2) cell cycle arrest; (3) increased apoptotic activity associated with p53 protein overexpression; (4) upregulated expression of the transdifferentiation and redifferentiation markers; (5) morphological changes indicative of transdifferentiation (increased cell size and appearance of dendrites); (6) decreased production of EGFR; (7) upregulation of TGFα and TGFβ2; and (8) increase in basal and glucose-induced insulin secretion.

Conclusions: Functional endocrine transdifferentiation can be induced in HPAF lines by atRA. Further investigations are mandated to explore the underlying mechanisms of this transdifferentiation and to explore its in vivo extrapolation.

  • atRA, all-trans-retinoic acid
  • CK, cytokeratin
  • EGFR, epidermal growth factor receptor
  • ELISA, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay
  • HPAF, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells
  • PDX-1, pancreas duodenum homeobox-l
  • TGF, transforming growth factor
  • TUNEL, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase

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