The long-term objective in our laboratory is to elucidate how genetic alterations contribute to malignant transformation of normal epithelial cells. Our current studies focus more closely on the continuous biological relevance of cancer initiating mutations during subsequent stages of malignant progression of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which accounts for the majority of pancreatic malignancies. In addition, we aim to identify cellular subtypes that are primary targets for neoplastic transformation or for the maintenance of pancreatic cancers. Previous studies have demonstrated that not all genetic alternations that initiate neoplastic transformation are equally important for the survival of cancer cells. Consequently, the selection of appropriate molecular targets that are crucial for the growth of cancer cells is of the utmost importance. In preliminary studies, we found that the majority of human ductal precursor lesions (PanINs) highly express c-Myc, and this oncogene is also upregulated in a subset of primary and metastatic PDACs. To assess the role of c-Myc and other oncogenes during tumor initiation and progression, we have developed a novel mouse model that allows for a strong, ligand-controlled expression of genes in a temporally controlled manner in pancreatic ductal cells of adult animals. Using this unique mouse model, we can demonstrate that the upregulation of the c-Myc oncogene is sufficient to cause rapid transformation and the appearance of ductal neoplasia after a short latency period. These neoplastic lesions progress quickly into primary PDACs with sporadic metastases to the liver. The treatment of tumor-bearing mice with a ligand (doxycycline) results in the suppression of c-Myc expression, which subsequently leads to apoptosis of neoplastic cells within PanIN lesions and solid pancreatic tumors. The primary goal of the proposed studies is to further examine whether c-Myc is equally required for the survival of all or a subset of metastatic carcinoma cells. Based on our preliminary data, we hypothesize that ablating the expression of the c-Myc oncogene in invasive pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells will cause the regression of metastatic lesions in tumor-bearing mice. We anticipate that the vast majority of cancer cells will undergo cell death, but a few cells will remain dormant that might serve as precursors for disease recurrence. To experimentally address the hypothesis in an exploratory-type (R21) study, we will determine in the first specific aim the importance of the c-Myc oncogene during maintenance and metastatic progression of PDAC and how its significance in advanced cancers is affected by secondary genetic events. In the second aim, we will employ our unique cancer model to identify and characterize residual cells that survive the ablation of c- Myc expression, and we will assess whether these cells are responsible for disease recurrence. Collectively, the results of both specific aims will yield novel data about the importance of cancer-initiating genetic events during the final stages of PDAC progression as well the differential effects of the ablation of an oncogene on cancer cell subtypes that may facilitate disease recurrence.
Pancreatic cancer is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage when many genetic alterations are present. The objective of this proposal is to elucidate whether genetic alterations that arise early during disease onset are also essential for the malignant progression. Using a novel pancreatic cancer model that expresses an oncogene in the ductal epithelium of adult mice in a temporally and spatially controlled manner, the proposed studies will help to predict the potential value of a cancer-initiating mutation as a therapeutic target to treat advanced pancreatic cancer
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