Acinar cell clonal expansion in pancreas homeostasis and carcinogenesis.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths worldwide1. Studies in human tissues and in mouse models have suggested that for many cancers, stem cells sustain early mutations driving tumour development2,3. For the pancreas, however, mechanisms underlying cellular renewal and initiation of PDAC remain unresolved. Here, using lineage tracing from the endogenous telomerase reverse transcriptase (Tert) locus, we identify a rare TERT-positive subpopulation of pancreatic acinar cells dispersed throughout the exocrine compartment. During homeostasis, these TERThigh acinar cells renew the pancreas by forming expanding clones of acinar cells, whereas randomly marked acinar cells do not form these clones. Specific expression of mutant Kras in TERThigh acinar cells accelerates acinar clone formation and causes transdifferentiation to ductal pre-invasive pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasms by upregulating Ras-MAPK signalling and activating the downstream kinase ERK (phospho-ERK). In resected human pancreatic neoplasms, we find that foci of phospho-ERK-positive acinar cells are common and frequently contain activating KRAS mutations, suggesting that these acinar regions represent an early cancer precursor lesion. These data support a model in which rare TERThigh acinar cells may sustain KRAS mutations, driving acinar cell expansion and creating a field of aberrant cells initiating pancreatic tumorigenesis.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-021-03916-2
View details for PubMedID 34526722