Inactivation of the transcription factor GLI1 accelerates pancreatic cancer progression [Cell Biology]

April 15th, 2014 by Mills, L. D., Zhang, L., Marler, R., Svingen, P., Fernandez Barrena, M. G., Dave, M., Bamlet, W., McWilliams, R. R., Petersen, G. M., Faubion, W., Fernandez-Zapico, M. E.

The role of GLI1 in pancreatic tumor initiation promoting the progression of preneoplastic lesions into tumors is well established. However, its function at later stages of pancreatic carcinogenesis remains poorly understood. To address this issue, we crossed the gli1 knockout animal (GKO) with cre-dependent pancreatic activation of oncogenic kras concomitant with loss of the tumor suppressor tp53 (KPC). Interestingly, in this model, GLI1 played a tumor protective function, where survival of GKO/KPC mice was reduced compared to KPC littermates. Both cohorts developed pancreatic cancer without significant histopathological differences in survival studies. However, analysis of mice using ultrasound based imaging at earlier time-points showed increased tumor burden in GKO/KPC mice. These animals have larger tumors, decreased body weight, increased lactate dehydrogenase production, and severe leukopenia. In vivo and in vitro expression studies identified FAS and FAS ligand as potential mediators of this phenomenon. The FAS/FASL axis, an apoptotic inducer, plays a role in the progression of pancreatic cancer, where its expression is usually lost or significantly reduced in advanced stages of the disease. Chromatin immunoprecipitation and reporter assays identified FAS and FASL as direct targets of GLI1 where GKO/KPC mice showed lower levels of this ligand compared to KPC animals. Finally, decreased levels of apoptosis were detected in the tumor tissue in the absence of GLI1 by TUNEL staining. Together, these findings define a novel pathway regulated by GLI1 controlling pancreatic tumor progression and provide a new theoretical framework to help with the design and analysis of trials targeting GLI1-related pathways.