BACKGROUND: Among the several new targets for the comprehension of the biology of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), Prion proteins (PrPc) deserve particular mention, since they share a marked neurotropism. Actually, PrPc could have also a role in tumorigenesis, as recently demonstrated. However, only few in vitro studies in cell cultures showed the occurrence of PrPc in PDAC cells. We aim to evaluate the presence of PrPc in vivo in PDAC tissues as a potential new biomarker.
METHODS: Samples from tumors of 23 patients undergone pancreatic resections from July 2018 to May 2020 at our institution were collected and analyzed. Immunohistochemistry and western blotting of PDAC tissues were compared with control tissues. Immunohistochemistry was used also to evaluate the localization of PrPc and of CD155, a tumoral stem-cell marker.
RESULTS: All cases were moderately differentiated PDAC, with perineural invasion (PNI) in 19/23 cases (83%). According to western-blot analysis, PrPc was markedly expressed in PDAC tissues (273.5 ± 44.63 OD) respect to controls (100 ± 28.35 OD, p = 0.0018). Immunohistochemistry confirmed these findings, with higher linear staining of PrPc in PDAC ducts (127.145 ± 7.56 μm vs 75.21 ± 5.01 μm, p < 0.0001). PrPc and CD155 exactly overlapped in ductal tumoral cells, highlighting the possible relationship of PrPc with cancer stemness. Finally, PrPc expression related with cancer stage and there was a potential correspondence with PNI.
CONCLUSIONS: Our work provides evidence for increased levels of PrPc in PDAC. This might contribute to cancer aggressiveness and provides a potentially new biomarker. Work is in progress to decipher clinical implications.