Though the significance of reciprocal interactions between genetically altered tumor cells and adjacent stroma is increasingly appreciated, this complex crosstalk remains poorly understood. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) has a particularly prominent stromal compartment, shown to exert both tumor-supportive and tumor-suppressive or homeostatic functions in the context of the wound-like tumor microenvironment. To investigate the paracrine effects of PDAC stromal elements on pancreatic cancer cells, we developed a “stromal” culture system, which incorporates structural and diffusible stroma-derived elements into homotypic PDAC cell cultures amenable to functional genomics and metabolomics. These analyses revealed that microenvironmental cues co-regulate cancer metabolism and gene expression. Stromal inputs broadly influenced histone acetylation in the PDAC epigenome, which coincided with induction of genes implicated in anabolic metabolism and inflammation. The gene expression and metabolic changes induced by stromal factors overlap with those previously identified following oncogenic Kras, suggesting functional complementarity between cell-autonomous and microenvironmental pathways characteristic of PDAC. As epigenome modification results in changes in gene expression through the functions of readers, such as the bromodomain-containing BET proteins, we tested JQ1, a small molecule inhibitor of BET family bromodomain-containing proteins, for the capacity to inhibit gene expression changes downstream of stromal factors. Paracrine induction of pro-growth and inflammatory genes was inhibited by JQ1, suggesting that the BET family serves as a key transducer of stromal inputs to drive alterations in gene expression. Inhibition of acetyl-lysine sensing by the BET family reduced pancreatic tumor growth and associated inflammation in vivo, with significant reduction in expression of genes implicated in macromolecule biosynthesis and tumor-permissive immune regulation. This work suggests paracrine epigenome regulation as a conduit through which stromal signals drive metabolic and immune adaptation to a challenging tumor microenvironment.

Citation Format: Mara H. Sherman, Ronald M. Evans. Control of pancreatic cancer metabolism and histone acetylation by the tumor microenvironment. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR Special Conference: Function of Tumor Microenvironment in Cancer Progression; 2016 Jan 7–10; San Diego, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2016;76(15 Suppl):Abstract nr B03.