Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is a highly aggressive epithelial malignancy still carrying a dismal prognosis, owing to early lymph node metastatic dissemination and striking resistance to conventional chemotherapy. Although mechanisms underpinning CCA progression are still a conundrum, it is now increasingly recognized that the desmoplastic microenvironment developing in conjunction with biliary carcinogenesis, recently renamed tumor reactive stroma (TRS), behaves as a paramount tumor-promoting driver. Indeed, once being recruited, activated and dangerously co-opted by neoplastic cells, the cellular components of the TRS (myofibroblasts, macrophages, endothelial cells and mesenchymal stem cells) continuously rekindle malignancy by secreting a huge variety of soluble factors (cyto/chemokines, growth factors, morphogens and proteinases). Furthermore, these factors are long-term stored within an abnormally remodeled extracellular matrix (ECM), which in turn can deleteriously mold cancer cell behavior. In this review, we will highlight evidence for the active role played by reactive stromal cells (as well as by the TRS-associated ECM) in CCA progression, including an overview of the most relevant TRS-derived signals possibly fueling CCA cell aggressiveness. Hopefully, a deeper knowledge of the paracrine communications reciprocally exchanged between cancer and stromal cells will steer the development of innovative, combinatorial therapies, which can finally hinder the progression of CCA, as well as of other cancer types with abundant TRS, such as pancreatic and breast carcinomas.
Cholangiocarcinoma is an aggressive, strongly chemoresistant liver malignancy. Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), an IL-6 family cytokine, promotes progression of various carcinomas. To investigate the role of LIF in cholangiocarcinoma, we evaluated the expression of LIF and its receptor (LIFR) in human samples. LIF secretion and LIFR expression were assessed in established and primary human cholangiocarcinoma cell lines. In cholangiocarcinoma cells, we tested LIF effects on proliferation, invasion, stem cell-like phenotype, chemotherapy-induced apoptosis (gemcitabine+cisplatin), expression levels of pro-apoptotic (Bax) and anti-apoptotic (Mcl-1) proteins, with/ without PI3K inhibition, and of pSTAT3, pERK1/2, pAKT. LIF effect on chemotherapyinduced apoptosis was evaluated after LIFR silencing and Mcl-1 inactivation.Results show that LIF and LIFR expression were higher in neoplastic than in control cholangiocytes; LIF was also expressed by tumor stromal cells. LIF had no effects on cholangiocarcinoma cell proliferation, invasion, and stemness signatures, whilst it counteracted drug-induced apoptosis. Upon LIF stimulation, decreased apoptosis was associated with Mcl-1 and pAKT up-regulation and abolished by PI3K inhibition. LIFR silencing and Mcl-1 blockade restored drug-induced apoptosis.In conclusion, autocrine and paracrine LIF signaling promote chemoresistance in cholangiocarcinoma by up-regulating Mcl-1 via a novel STAT3-and MAPKindependent, PI3K/AKT-dependent pathway. Targeting LIF signaling may increase CCA responsiveness to chemotherapy.
Prognosis of cholangiocarcinoma, a devastating liver epithelial malignancy characterized by early invasiveness, remains very dismal, though its incidence has been steadily increasing. Evidence is mounting that in cholangiocarcinoma, tumor epithelial cells establish an intricate web of mutual interactions with multiple stromal components, largely determining the pervasive behavior of the tumor. The main cellular components of the tumor microenvironment (i.e. myofibroblasts, macrophages, lymphatic endothelial cells), which has been recently termed as 'tumor reactive stroma', are recruited and activated by neoplastic cells, and in turn, deleteriously mold tumor behavior by releasing a huge variety of paracrine signals, including cyto/chemokines, growth factors, morphogens and proteinases. An abnormally remodeled and stiff extracellular matrix favors and supports these cell interactions. Although the mechanisms responsible for the generation of tumor reactive stroma are largely uncertain, hypoxia presumably plays a central role. In this review, we will dissect the intimate relationship among the different cell elements cooperating within this complex 'ecosystem', with the ultimate goal to pave the way for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying cholangiocarcinoma aggressiveness, and possibly, to foster the development of innovative, combinatorial therapies aimed at halting tumor progression. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Cholangiocytes in Health and Diseaseedited by Jesus Banales, Marco Marzioni, Nicholas LaRusso and Peter Jansen.
Nuclear expression of the calcium-binding protein S100A4 is a biomarker of increased invasiveness in cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), a primary liver cancer with scarce treatment opportunities and dismal prognosis. In this study, we provide evidence that targeting S100A4 nuclear import by low dose paclitaxel (PTX), a microtubule stabilizing agent, inhibits CCA invasiveness and metastatic spread. Administration of low dose PTX to established (EGI-1) and primary (CCA-TV3) CCA cell lines expressing nuclear S100A4 triggered a marked reduction in nuclear expression of S100A4 without modifying its cytoplasmic levels, an effect associated with a significant decrease in cell migration and invasiveness. While low dose PTX did not affect cellular proliferation, apoptosis or cytoskeletal integrity, it significantly reduced SUMOylation of S100A4, a critical posttranslational modification that directs its trafficking to the nucleus. This effect of lose dose PTX was reproduced by ginkolic acid, a specific SUMOylation inhibitor. Downregulation of nuclear S100A4 by low dose PTX was associated with a strong reduction in RhoA and Cdc42 GTPase activity, MT1-MMP expression and MMP-9 secretion. In a SCID mouse xenograft model, low dose metronomic PTX treatment decreased lung dissemination of EGI-1 cells without significantly affecting their local tumor growth. In the tumor mass, nuclear S100A4 expression by CCA cells was significantly reduced, whereas rates of proliferation and apoptosis were unchanged. Overall, our findings highlight nuclear S100A4 as a candidate therapeutic target in CCA and establish a mechanistic rationale for the use of low dose PTX in blocking metastatic progression of cholangiocarcinoma.
Whether liver epithelial cells contribute to the development of hepatic scarring by undergoing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a controversial issue. Herein, we revisit the concept of EMT in cholangiopathies, a group of severe hepatic disorders primarily targeting the bile duct epithelial cell (cholangiocyte), leading to progressive portal fibrosis, the main determinant of liver disease progression. Unfortunately, therapies able to halt this process are currently lacking. In cholangiopathies, fibrogenesis is part of ductular reaction, a reparative complex involving epithelial, mesenchymal, and inflammatory cells. Ductular reactive cells (DRC) are cholangiocytes derived from the activation of the hepatic progenitor cell compartment. These cells are arranged into irregular strings and express a “reactive” phenotype, which enables them to extensively crosstalk with the other components of ductular reaction. We will first discuss EMT in liver morphogenesis and then highlight how some of these developmental programs are partly reactivated in DRC. Evidence for “bona fide” EMT changes in cholangiocytes is lacking, but expression of some mesenchymal markers represents a fundamental repair mechanism in response to chronic biliary damage with potential harmful fibrogenetic effects. Understanding microenvironmental cues and signaling perturbations promoting these changes in DRC may help to identify potential targets for new antifibrotic therapies in cholangiopathies.
Resistance to conventional chemotherapeutic agents, a typical feature of cholangiocarcinoma, prevents the efficacy of the therapeutic arsenal usually used to combat malignancy in humans. Mechanisms of chemoresistance by neoplastic cholangiocytes include evasion of drug-induced apoptosis mediated by autocrine and paracrine cues released in the tumor microenvironment. Here, recent evidence regarding molecular mechanisms of chemoresistance is reviewed, as well as associations between well-developed chemoresistance and activation of the cancer stem cell compartment. It is concluded that improved understanding of the complex interplay between apoptosis signaling and the promotion of cell survival represent potentially productive areas for active investigation, with the ultimate aim of encouraging future studies to unveil new, effective strategies able to overcome current limitations on treatment.
In addition to its well-established role in embryo development, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been proposed as a general mechanism favoring tumor metastatization in several epithelial malignancies. Herein, we review the topic of EMT in cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), a primary liver cancer arising from the epithelial cells lining the bile ducts (cholangiocytes) and characterized by an abundant stromal reaction. CCA carries a dismal prognosis, owing to a pronounced invasiveness and scarce therapeutic opportunities. In CCA, several reports indicate that cancer cells acquire a number of EMT biomarkers and functions. These phenotypic changes are likely induced by both autocrine and paracrine signals released in the tumor microenvironment (cytokines, growth factors, morphogens) and intracellular stimuli (microRNAs, oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes) variably associated with specific disease mechanisms, including chronic inflammation and hypoxia. Nevertheless, evidence supporting a complete EMT of neoplastic cholangiocytes into stromal cells is lacking, and the gain of EMT-like changes by CCA cells rather reflects a shift towards an enhanced pro-invasive phenotype, likely induced by the tumor stroma. This concept may help to identify new biomarkers of early metastatic behavior along with potential therapeutic targets.
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