Intra-tumoral heterogeneity and cellular plasticity have emerged as hallmarks of cancer, including pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). As PDAC portends a dire prognosis, a better understanding of the mechanisms underpinning cellular diversity in PDAC is crucial. Here, we investigated the cellular heterogeneity of PDAC cancer cells across a range of in vitro and in vivo growth conditions using single-cell genomics. Heterogeneity contracted significantly in 2D and 3D cell culture models but was restored upon orthotopic transplantation. Orthotopic transplants reproducibly acquired cell states identified in autochthonous PDAC tumors, including a basal state exhibiting co-expression and co-accessibility of epithelial and mesenchymal genes. Lineage-tracing combined with single-cell transcriptomics revealed that basal cells display high plasticity in situ. This work defines the impact of cellular growth conditions on phenotypic diversity and uncovers a highly plastic cell state with the capacity to facilitate state transitions and promote intra-tumoral heterogeneity in PDAC.

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