PLoS One 2017 6;12(12):e0189051. Epub 2017 Dec 6.
Gene Expression Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, United States of America.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is characterized by an extremely dense fibrotic stroma, which contributes to tumor growth, metastasis, and drug resistance. During tumorigenesis, quiescent pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) are activated and become major contributors to fibrosis, by increasing growth factor signaling and extracellular matrix deposition. The p53 tumor suppressor is known to restrict tumor initiation and progression through cell autonomous mechanisms including apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, and senescence. There is growing evidence that stromal p53 also exerts anti-tumor activity by paracrine mechanisms, though a role for stromal p53 in PDAC has not yet been described. Here, we demonstrate that activation of stromal p53 exerts anti-tumor effects in PDAC. We show that primary cancer-associated PSCs (caPSCs) isolated from human PDAC express wild-type p53, which can be activated by the Mdm2 antagonist Nutlin-3a. Our work reveals that p53 acts as a major regulator of PSC activation and as a modulator of PDAC fibrosis. In vitro, p53 activation by Nutlin-3a induces profound transcriptional changes, which reprogram activated PSCs to quiescence. Using immunofluorescence and lipidomics, we have also found that p53 activation induces lipid droplet accumulation in both normal and tumor-associated fibroblasts, revealing a previously undescribed role for p53 in lipid storage. In vivo, treatment of tumor-bearing mice with the clinical form of Nutlin-3a induces stromal p53 activation, reverses caPSCs activation, and decreases fibrosis. All together our work uncovers new functions for stromal p53 in PDAC.