Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), one of the most highly lethal tumors, is characterized by complex histology, with a massive fibrotic stroma in which both pseudo-glandular structures and compact nests of abnormally differentiated tumor cells are embedded, in different proportions and with different mutual relationships in space. This complexity and the heterogeneity of the tumor component have hindered the development of a broadly accepted, clinically actionable classification of PDACs, either on a morphological or a molecular basis. Here, we discuss evidence suggesting that such heterogeneity can to a large extent, albeit not exclusively, be traced back to two main classes of PDAC cells that commonly coexist in the same tumor: cells that maintained their ability to differentiate toward endodermal, mucin-producing epithelia and epithelial cells unable to form glandular structures and instead characterized by various levels of squamous differentiation and the expression of mesenchymal lineage genes. The underlying gene regulatory networks and how they are controlled by distinct transcription factors, as well as the practical implications of these two different populations of tumor cells, are discussed.
- pancreatic cancer
- pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
- tumor grading
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)