Phenotype screens of murine pancreatic cancer identify a Tgf-α-Ccl2-paxillin axis driving human-like neural invasion

Xiaobo Wang, Rouzanna Istvanffy, Linhan Ye, Steffen Teller, Melanie Laschinger, Kalliope N. Diakopoulos, Kıvanç Görgülü, Qiaolin Li, Lei Ren, Carsten Jäger, Katja Steiger, Alexander Muckenhuber, Baiba Vilne, Kaan Çifcibaşı, Carmen Mota Reyes, Ümmügülsüm Yurteri, Maximilian Kießler, Ibrahim Halil Gürçınar, Maya Sugden, Saliha Elif YıldızhanOsman Uğur Sezerman, Sümeyye Çilingir, Güldal Süyen, Maximilian Reichert, Roland M. Schmid, Stefanie Bärthel, Rupert Oellinger, Achim Krüger, Roland Rad, Dieter Saur, Hana Algül, Helmut Friess, Marina Lesina, Güralp Onur Ceyhan, Ihsan Ekin Demir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Solid cancers like pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a type of pancreatic cancer, frequently exploit nerves for rapid dissemination. This neural invasion (NI) is an independent prognostic factor in PDAC, but insufficiently modeled in genetically engineered mouse models (GEMM) of PDAC. Here, we systematically screened for human-like NI in Europe’s largest repository of GEMM of PDAC, comprising 295 different genotypes. This phenotype screen uncovered 2 GEMMs of PDAC with human-like NI, which are both characterized by pancreas-specific overexpression of transforming growth factor α (TGF-α) and conditional depletion of p53. Mechanistically, cancer-cell-derived TGF-α upregulated CCL2 secretion from sensory neurons, which induced hyperphosphorylation of the cytoskeletal protein paxillin via CCR4 on cancer cells. This activated the cancer migration machinery and filopodia formation toward neurons. Disrupting CCR4 or paxillin activity limited NI and dampened tumor size and tumor innervation. In human PDAC, phospho-paxillin and TGF-α–expression constituted strong prognostic factors. Therefore, we believe that the TGF-α-CCL2-CCR4-p-paxillin axis is a clinically actionable target for constraining NI and tumor progression in PDAC.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere166333
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number21
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


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