5 years ago

Gemcitabine treatment induces endoplasmic reticular (ER) stress and subsequently upregulates urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) to block mitochondrial-dependent apoptosis in Panc-1 cancer stem-like cells (CSCs)

Yang Chen, Li Wang, Bole Tian, Weiguo Wang, Yi Zhang, Yunjie Zhu

by Li Wang, Yi Zhang, Weiguo Wang, Yunjie Zhu, Yang Chen, Bole Tian


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive cancer with poor survival rates. The presence of cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) is believed to be among the underlying reasons for the aggressiveness of PDAC, which contributes to chemoresistance and recurrence. However, the mechanisms that induce chemoresistance and inhibit apoptosis remain largely unknown.


We used serum-free medium to enrich CSCs from panc-1 human pancreatic cancer cells and performed sphere formation testing, flow cytometry, quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and semi-quantitative western blotting to confirm the stemness of panc-1 CSCs. Hallmarks of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, including IRE1, PERK, ATF4, ATF6α, GRP78 and uPA expression, were detected after gemcitabine treatment. Effects of gemcitabine-induced uPA expression on cell invasion, sphere formation, colony formation and gemcitabine sensitivity were detected. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSAs) and RNA-immunoprecipitation (RIP) were performed to detect interaction between the uPA mRNA 3’-UTR and mutant p53-R273H expressed by panc-1 CSCs. The effects of upregulated uPA by gemcitabine on apoptosis were detected by Annexin V-FITC/PI staining, and the impact of uPA on small molecule CP-31398-restored mutant p53 transcriptional activity was measured by a luciferase reporter assay.


Enriched panc-1 CSCs expressing high levels of CD44 and CD133 also produced significantly higher amounts of Oct4 and Nanog. Compared with panc-1 cells, panc-1 CSCs presented chemoresistance to gemcitabine. ER stress gene detections demonstrated effects of gemcitabine-induced ER stress on both the pro-apoptotic and pro-survival branches. ER stress-induced ATF6α upregulated level of uPA by transcriptionally activating GRP78. Gemcitabine-induced uPA promoted invasion, sphere formation and colony formation and attenuated apoptosis induced by gemcitabine in panc-1 CSCs, depending on interaction with mutant p53-R273H. Upregulation of uPA abolished CP-31398-mediated restoration of mutant p53 transcriptional activity in panc-1 CSCs.


Gemcitabine treatment induced ER stress and promoted mutant p53-R273H stabilization via transcriptionally activated uPA which may contribute to chemoresistance to gemcitabine. Notably, upregulation of uPA by gemcitabine treatment may lead to the failure of CP-31398; thus, a novel strategy for modulating mutant p53 function needs to be developed.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184110

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