The extracellular matrix in pancreatic cancer: Description of a complex network and promising therapeutic options

Benedetta Ferrara, Cataldo Pignatelli, Mélissande Cossutta, Antonio Citro, José Courty, Lorenzo Piemonti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The stroma is a relevant player in driving and supporting the progression of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), and a large body of evidence highlights its role in hindering the efficacy of current therapies. In fact, the dense extracellular matrix (ECM) characterizing this tumor acts as a natural physical barrier, impairing drug penetration. Consequently, all of the approaches combining stroma-targeting and anticancer therapy constitute an appealing option for improving drug penetration. Several strategies have been adopted in order to target the PDAC stroma, such as the depletion of ECM components and the targeting of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), which are responsible for the increased matrix deposition in cancer. Additionally, the leaky and collapsing blood vessels characterizing the tumor might be normalized, thus restoring blood perfusion and allowing drug penetration. Even though many stroma-targeting strategies have reported disappointing results in clinical trials, the ECM offers a wide range of potential therapeutic targets that are now being investigated. The dense ECM might be bypassed by implementing nanoparticle-based systems or by using mesenchymal stem cells as drug carriers. The present review aims to provide an overview of the principal mechanisms involved in the ECM remodeling and of new promising therapeutic strategies for PDAC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4442
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Cancer-associated fibroblasts
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Matrix remodeling
  • Solid stress
  • Stiffness
  • Stroma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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