Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a highly metastatic disease with few effective treatments. Here we show that the mitochondrial calcium uniporter (MCU) promotes PDAC cell migration, invasion, metastasis, and metabolic stress resistance by activating the Keap1-Nrf2 antioxidant program. The cystine transporter SLC7A11 was identified as a druggable target downstream of the MCU-Nrf2 axis. Paradoxically, despite the increased ability to uptake cystine, MCU-overexpressing PDAC demonstrated characteristics typical of cystine-deprived cells and were hypersensitive to cystine deprivation-induced ferroptosis. Pharmacologic inhibitors of SLC7A11 effectively induced tumor regression and abrogated MCU-driven metastasis in PDAC. In patient-derived organoid models in vitro and patient-derived xenograft models in vivo, MCU-high PDAC demonstrated increased sensitivity to SLC7A11 inhibition compared with MCU-low tumors. These data suggest that MCU is able to promote resistance to metabolic stress and to drive PDAC metastasis in a cystine-dependent manner. MCU-mediated cystine addiction could be exploited as a therapeutic vulnerability to inhibit PDAC tumor growth and to prevent metastasis.
Elevated mitochondrial calcium uptake in PDAC promotes metastasis but exposes cystine addiction and ferroptosis sensitivity that could be targeted to improve pancreatic cancer treatment.