Chemoresistance in pancreatic cancer cells may be caused by the expansion of inherently resistant cancer cells or by the adaptive plasticity of initially sensitive cancer cells. We investigated how CD44 isoforms switching contributed to gemcitabine resistance. Treating CD44 null/low single-cell clones with increasing amounts of gemcitabine caused an increase in expression of CD44 and development of gemcitabine resistant (GR) cells. Drug sensitivity, invasiveness, and EMT process was evaluated by MTT, Matrigel invasion assays, and western blots. Genetic knockdown and pharmacological inhibitors were used to examine the roles of CD44 and IGF1R in mediating gemcitabine resistance. CD44 promoter activity and its interactive EMT-related transcription factors were evaluated by luciferase reporter assay and chromatin immunoprecipitation assay. Kaplan–Meier curve was created by log-rank test to reveal the clinical relevance of CD44 and IGF1R expression in patients. We found silence of CD44 in GR cells partially restored E-cadherin expression, reduced ZEB1 expression, and increased drug sensitivity. The gemcitabine-induced CD44 expressing and isoform switching were associated with an increase in nuclear accumulation of phosphor-cJun, Ets1, and Egr1 and binding of these transcription factors to the CD44 promoter. Gemcitabine treatment induced phosphorylation of IGF1R and increased the expression of phosphor-cJun, Ets1, and Egr1 within 72 h. Stimulation or suppression of IGF1R signaling or its downstream target promoted or blocked CD44 promoter activity. Clinically, patients whose tumors expressed high levels of CD44/IGF1R showed a poor prognosis. This study suggests that IGF1R-dependent CD44 isoform switching confers pancreatic cancer cells to undergo an adaptive change in response to gemcitabine and provides the basis for improved targeted therapy of pancreatic cancer.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research