CD4(+) T cells potently induce epithelial-mesenchymal-transition in premalignant and malignant pancreatic ductal epithelial cells-novel implications of CD4(+) T cells in pancreatic cancer development.

PMID 26137395


Chronic pancreatitis (CP) is a risk factor of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) and characterized by a pronounced desmoplastic reaction with CD4(+) T cells accounting for the majority of the stromal T cell infiltrate. Epithelial-mesenchymal-transition (EMT) is a critical process for metastasis by which epithelial/carcinoma cells become enabled to disseminate probably prior to tumor formation. To investigate whether CD4(+) T cells induce EMT in human pancreatic ductal epithelial cells, premalignant H6c7 cells were mono- or co-cultured with human CD4(+)CD25(+)CD127(-)CD49d(-) regulatory T cells (T-regs) or CD4(+)CD25(-) T-effector cells (T-effs) being isolated by negative magnetic bead separation from blood of healthy donors. Particularly in the presence of activated T-effs, H6c7 cells acquired a spindle-shaped morphology, reduced E-cadherin expression, and elevated expression of the mesenchymal proteins vimentin, L1CAM, and ZEB-1. This was accompanied by an increased invasive behavior. Moreover, activated T-effs exerted similar effects in the PDAC cell line T3M4. Blocking of TNF-α and IL-6 being released at greater amounts into supernatants during co-cultures with activated T-effs attenuated the EMT-associated alterations in H6c7 cells. Supporting these findings, EMT-associated alterations (exemplified by reduced E-cadherin expression and enhanced expression of vimentin and L1CAM) were predominantly detected in ductal epithelium of CP tissues surrounded by a dense stroma enriched with CD4(+) T cells. Overall this study points to a novel role of CD4(+) T cells beyond their immune function in pancreatic tumorigenesis and underscores the view that EMT induction in pancreatic ductal epithelial cells represents an early event in PDAC development being essentially promoted by inflammatory processes.