Affiliation: Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, First Affiliated Hospital, Medical College, Xi'an Jiaotong University, 277 West Yanta Road, Xi’an 710061, China.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is characterized by the excessive deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM), which is thought to contribute to this tumor’s malignant behavior. However, the detailed mechanism and the contribution of excessive deposition of ECM in PDAC progression remain unclear. A better understanding of the mechanism involved in this process is essential for the design of new effective therapies. In this study, we demonstrated that pancreatic cancer cells exhibited increased proliferation and decreased apoptosis in response to type I collagen. In addition, PDAC cells exposed to type I collagen lost the expression of E-cadherin and increased expression of mesenchymal markers, including N-cadherin and vimentin. This epithelial- mesenchymal transition (EMT) was correlated with enhanced cell migration and invasiveness. Knockdown of β1-integrin abolished the effects induced by type I collagen, and further investigation revealed that type I collagen activates β1-integrin (marked by phosphorylation of β1 integrin downstream effectors, focal adhesion kinase [FAK], AKT, and ERK) accompanied by markedly up-regulation of Gli-1, a component of the Hedgehog (HH) pathway. Knockdown of Gli-1 reversed the effects of type I collagen on PDAC invasion and EMT. These results suggest that there is cross-talk between the β1-integrin signaling pathway and the HH pathway in pancreatic cancer and that activation of the HH pathway plays a key role in the type I collagen-induced effects on pancreatic cancer.