Axon Guidance Molecules Promote Perineural Invasion and Metastasis of Orthotopic Pancreatic Tumors in Mice

Noelle R. Jurcak, Agnieszka A. Rucki, Stephen Muth, Elizabeth Thompson, Rajni Sharma, Ding Ding, Qingfeng Zhu, James Eshleman, Robert A Anders, Elizabeth Jaffee, Kenji Fujiwara, Lei Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background & Aims: Little is known about mechanisms of perineural invasion (PNI) by pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAs) or other tumors. Annexin A2 (ANXA2) regulates secretion of SEMA3D, an axon guidance molecule, which binds and activates the receptor PLXND1 to promote PDA invasion and metastasis. We investigated whether axon guidance molecules promote PNI and metastasis by PDA cells in mice. Methods: We performed studies in a dorsal root ganglion (DRG) invasion system, wild-type C57BL/6 mice (controls), mice with peripheral sensory neuron-specific disruption of PlxnD1 (PLAC mice), LSL-KRASG12D/+;LSL-TP53R172H/+;PDX-1-CRE+/+ (KPC) mice, and KPC mice crossed with ANXA2-knockout mice (KPCA mice). PDA cells were isolated from KPC mice and DRG cells were isolated from control mice. Levels of SEMA3D or ANXA2 were knocked down in PDA cells with small hairpin and interfering RNAs and cells were analyzed by immunoblots in migration assays, with DRGs and with or without antibodies against PLXND1. PDA cells were injected into the pancreas of control and PLAC mice, growth of tumors was assessed, and tumor samples were analyzed by histology. DRG cells were incubated with SEMA3D and analyzed by live imaging. We measured levels of SEMA3D and PLXND1 in PDA specimens from patients with PNI and calculated distances between tumor cells and nerves. Results: DRG cells increase the migration of PDC cells in invasion assays; knockdown of SEMA3D in PDA cells or antibody blockade of PLXND1 on DRG cells reduced this invasive activity. In mice, orthotopic tumors grown from PDA cells with knockdown of SEMA3D, and in PLAC mice, orthotopic tumors grown from PDA cells, had reduced innervation and formed fewer metastases than orthotopic tumors grown from PDA cells in control mice. Increased levels of SEMA3D and PLXND1 in human PDA specimens associated with PNI. Conclusions: DRG cells increase the migratory and invasive activities of pancreatic cancer cells, via secretion of SEMA3D by pancreatic cells and activation of PLXND1 on DRGs. Knockdown of SEMA3D and loss of neural PLXND1 reduces innervation of orthotopic PDAs and metastasis in mice. Increased levels of SEMA3D and PLXND1 in human PDA specimens associated with PNI. Strategies to disrupt the axon guidance pathway mediated by SEMA3D and PLXND1 might be developed to slow progression of PDA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)838-850.e6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019



  • Motility
  • Neuron-Derived Factors
  • Pancreas
  • Tumor Microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology

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