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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the authors' final version prior to publication in Cancer Research, Volume 77, Issue 16, August 2017, Pages 4460-4471.

The published version is available at Copyright © AACR


Cancer aggressiveness may result from the selective pressure of a harsh nutrient-deprived microenvironment. Here we illustrate how such conditions promote chemotherapy resistance in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Glucose or glutamine withdrawal resulted in a 5- to 10-fold protective effect with chemotherapy treatment. PDAC xenografts were less sensitive to gemcitabine in hypoglycemic mice compared with hyperglycemic mice. Consistent with this observation, patients receiving adjuvant gemcitabine (n = 107) with elevated serum glucose levels (HgbA1C > 6.5%) exhibited improved survival. We identified enhanced antioxidant defense as a driver of chemoresistance in this setting. ROS levels were doubled in vitro by either nutrient withdrawal or gemcitabine treatment, but depriving PDAC cells of nutrients before gemcitabine treatment attenuated this effect. Mechanistic investigations based on RNAi or CRISPR approaches implicated the RNA binding protein HuR in preserving survival under nutrient withdrawal, with or without gemcitabine. Notably, RNA deep sequencing and functional analyses in HuR-deficient PDAC cell lines identified isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) as the sole antioxidant enzyme under HuR regulation. HuR-deficient PDAC cells lacked the ability to engraft successfully in immunocompromised mice, but IDH1 overexpression in these cells was sufficient to fully restore chemoresistance under low nutrient conditions. Overall, our findings highlight the HuR–IDH1 regulatory axis as a critical, actionable therapeutic target in pancreatic cancer.

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