The receptor tyrosine kinase Axl has been reported to be overexpressed in a variety of human cancers. Although previous studies have identified the role of Axl in the transformation, proliferation, survival, and invasion in cancers, the expression and functions of Axl in pancreatic cancer have not been studied in detail.
The expression of Axl protein in 12 pancreatic cancer cell lines and 54 patient samples of stage II pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) and their paired non-neoplastic pancreatic tissue samples were examined. Using univariate and multivariate analysis, Axl expression was correlated with survival and other clinicopathologic features. To examine Axl functions in PDA, the effects of Axl knockdown on the invasion ability and radiation-induced apoptosis in PDA cell lines were measured.
Axl was overexpressed in 38 of 54 (70%) stage II PDA samples and 9 of 12 (75%) PDA cell lines. Axl overexpression was associated with higher frequencies of distant metastasis and poor overall and recurrence-free survivals (P = .03 and P = .04, respectively) independent of tumor size and stage or lymph node status in patients with stage II PDA. Knockdown of Axl expression in PDA cells abolished Gas6-mediated Akt activation, decreased invasion, and increased radiation-induced PARP cleavage and the percentage of apoptosis.
This study showed that Gas6 and Axl are frequently overexpressed in PDA cells and are associated with a poor prognosis in patients with stage II PDA. Axl promotes the invasion and survival of PDA cells. Therefore, targeting the Axl signaling pathway may represent a new approach to the treatment of PDA. Cancer 2011. © 2010 American Cancer Society.