Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), are the key effector cells in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), known to induce tumor growth and progression. Pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) are the precursors of CAFs in PDAC that secrete abundant extracellular matrix, growth factors and cytokines. In this study, we targeted human relaxin-2 (RLX), an endogenous hormone, to PSCs to inhibit their differentiation into CAF-like myofibroblasts. RLX significantly inhibited TGF-β induced PSCs differentiation by inhibiting pSmad2 signaling pathway. In vitro in primary human PSCs (hPSCs), treatment with RLX dose-dependently inhibited the migration, contraction, and protein expression of alpha smooth muscle actin and collagen I These data demonstrate that RLX can regulate hPSCs activation in vitro. However, RLX has several drawbacks i.e. poor pharmacokinetics and systemic vasodilation, that limits its preclinical and clinical application. Thus, we designed and successfully synthesized a nanoparticle system by chemically conjugating RLX to superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticle (SPION) to improve its pharmacokinetics. Interestingly, we found RLX-SPION to be more efficacious compared to free RLX in vitro. Significantly, we observed RLX-SPION retarded the tumor growth by itself and also potentiated the effect of gemcitabine in a subcutaneous co-injection (Panc1 and hPSCs) tumor model. The treatment resulted in significant inhibition in tumor growth, which was attributed to reduced collagen I (ECM), desmin (hPSC marker) and CD31 (endothelial marker) expression. In contrast, free RLX showed no significant effects. Altogether, this study presents a novel therapeutic approach against tumor stroma using RLX-SPION to achieve an effective treatment against pancreatic tumor.
- Pancreatic cancer
- Pancreatic stellate cells
- Superparamagnetic iron-oxide nanoparticles
- Tumor stroma
- Cancer-associated fibroblasts