Suppression of Endothelial Cell FAK Expression Reduces Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma Metastasis after Gemcitabine Treatment

Roy-Luzarraga, M., Reynolds, L. E., de Luxan-Delgado, B., Maiques, O., Wisniewski, L., Newport, E., Rajeeve, V., Drake, R. J. G., Gomez-Escudero, J., Richards, F. M., Weller, C., Dormann, C., Meng, Y. M., Vermeulen, P. B., Saur, D., Sanz-Moreno, V., Wong, P. P., Geraud, C., Cutillas, P. R., and Hodivala-Dilke, K. (2022). Cancer Res 82, 1909-1925. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-3807


Despite substantial advances in the treatment of solid cancers, resistance to therapy remains a major obstacle to prolonged progression-free survival. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most aggressive cancers, with a high level of liver metastasis. Primary PDAC is highly hypoxic, and metastases are resistant to first-line treatment, including gemcitabine. Recent studies have indicated that endothelial cell (EC) focal adhesion kinase (FAK) regulates DNA-damaging therapy-induced angiocrine factors and chemosensitivity in primary tumor models. Here, we show that inducible loss of EC-FAK in both orthotopic and spontaneous mouse models of PDAC is not sufficient to affect primary tumor growth but reduces liver and lung metastasis load and improves survival rates in gemcitabine-treated, but not untreated, mice. EC-FAK loss did not affect primary tumor angiogenesis, tumor blood vessel leakage, or early events in metastasis, including the numbers of circulating tumor cells, tumor cell homing, or metastatic seeding. Phosphoproteomics analysis showed a downregulation of the MAPK, RAF, and PAK signaling pathways in gemcitabine-treated FAK-depleted ECs compared with gemcitabine-treated wild-type ECs. Moreover, low levels of EC-FAK correlated with increased survival and reduced relapse in gemcitabine-treated patients with PDAC, supporting the clinical relevance of these findings. Altogether, we have identified a new role of EC-FAK in regulating PDAC metastasis upon gemcitabine treatment that impacts outcome.