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Beirith, Iris; Renz, Bernhard W.; Mudusetti, Shristee; Ring, Natalja Sergejewna; Kolorz, Julian; Koch, Dominik; Bazhin, Alexandr V.; Berger, Michael; Wang, Jing; Angele, Martin K.; D'Haese, Jan G.; Guba, Markus O.; Niess, Hanno; Andrassy, Joachim; Werner, Jens and Ilmer, Matthias (2021): Identification of the Neurokinin-1 Receptor as Targetable Stratification Factor for Drug Repurposing in Pancreatic Cancer. In: Cancers, Vol. 13, No. 11, 2703

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Simple Summary Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is the most common form of pancreatic cancer. It is known for low life expectancies after diagnosis and very limited treatment options. The identification of new therapeutic molecular targets is urgent as it might allow faster development of new treatment strategies. Targeting the neurokinin-1 receptor with small molecules has previously shown anti-tumoral effects in a large variety of cancers. Here, we found specific types of pancreatic cells to express the neurokinin-1 receptor while at the same time showing positive treatment response represented by cell growth reduction in number and size when treated with aprepitant. Our results suggest the neurokinin-1 receptor as a promising targetable structure and therefore interesting in the concept of personalized medicine. The SP/NK1R-complex plays an important role in tumor proliferation. Targeting of the neurokinin-1 receptor in previous studies with its antagonist aprepitant (AP) resulted in anti-tumoral effects in colorectal cancer and hepatoblastoma. However, there is still a lack of knowledge regarding its effects on pancreatic cancer. Therefore, we treated human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cell lines (Capan-1, DanG, HuP-T3, Panc-1, and MIA PaCa-2) and their cancer stem cell-like cells (CSCs) with AP and analyzed functional effects by MTT-, colony, and sphere formation assays, respectively;moreover, we monitored downstream mechanisms by flow cytometry. NK1R inhibition resulted in dose-dependent growth reduction in both CSCs and non-CSCs without induction of apoptosis in most PDAC cell lines. More importantly, we identified striking AP dependent cell cycle arrest in all parental cells. Furthermore, gene expression and the importance of key genes in PDAC tumorigenesis were analyzed combining RT-qPCR in eight PDAC cell lines with publicly available datasets (TCGA, GEO, CCLE). Surprisingly, we found a better overall survival in patients with high NK1R levels, while at the same time, NK1R was significantly decreased in PDAC tissue compared to normal tissue. Interestingly, there is currently no differentiation between the isoforms of NK1R (truncated and full;NK1R-tr and -fl) in any of the indicated public transcriptomic records, although many publications already emphasize on important regulatory differences between the two isoforms of NK1R in many cancer entities. In conclusion, analysis of splice variants might potentially lead to a stratification of PDAC patients for NK1R-directed therapies. Furthermore, we presume PDAC patients with high expressions of NK1R-tr might benefit from treatment with AP to improve chemoresistance. Therefore, analysis of splice variants might potentially lead to a stratification of PDAC patients for NK1R-directed therapies.

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