Antifibrotic Therapy Disrupts Stromal Barriers and Modulates the Immune Landscape in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma.


Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. [Email]


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) remains one of the deadliest forms of cancer, in part, because it is largely refractory to current therapies. The failure of most standard therapies in PDA, as well as promising immune therapies, may be largely ascribed to highly unique and protective stromal microenvironments that present significant biophysical barriers to effective drug delivery, that are immunosuppressive, and that can limit the distribution and function of antitumor immune cells. Here, we utilized stromal reengineering to disrupt these barriers and move the stroma toward normalization using a potent antifibrotic agent, halofuginone. In an autochthonous genetically engineered mouse model of PDA, halofuginone disrupted physical barriers to effective drug distribution by decreasing fibroblast activation and reducing key extracellular matrix elements that drive stromal resistance. Concomitantly, halofuginone treatment altered the immune landscape in PDA, with greater immune infiltrate into regions of low hylauronan, which resulted in increased number and distribution of both classically activated inflammatory macrophages and cytotoxic T cells. In concert with a direct effect on carcinoma cells, this led to widespread intratumoral necrosis and reduced tumor volume. These data point to the multifunctional and critical role of the stroma in tumor protection and survival and demonstrate how compromising tumor integrity to move toward a more normal physiologic state through stroma-targeting therapy will likely be an instrumental component in treating PDA. SIGNIFICANCE: This work demonstrates how focused stromal re-engineering approaches to move toward normalization of the stroma disrupt physical barriers to effective drug delivery and promote antitumor immunity.See related commentary by Huang and Brekken, p. 328.