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Activation of the epidermal growth factor signalling pathway by tissue plasminogen activator in pancreas cancer cells


Background: Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the major activator of plasminogen in plasma. This serine protease is overexpressed by exocrine pancreas tumour cells, where it promotes tumour cell proliferation, growth, and invasion. Here we have explored the signalling pathways used by tPA to activate the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells.

Methods: Transcriptional profiling on cDNA micro arrays was used to analyse the pattern of gene expression in response to tPA compared to the response to epidermal growth factor (EGF) and platelet derived growth factor (PDGF). Results were confirmed using different biochemical assays in which specific kinase inhibitors or RNA interference were used.

Results: Transcriptional profiling showed that tPA modulates the expression of a set of genes commonly regulated by EGF, but distinct from the major set of genes modulated by PDGF. This suggested that tPA and EGF share common signalling pathways, a conclusion supported by further experimental evidence. Firstly, we found that tPA induced a rapid and transient phosphorylation of the EGFR. Secondly, specific EGFR kinase inhibitors, but not PDGFR kinase inhibitors, abolished the tPA induced phosphorylation of the ERK1/2 kinases and cell proliferation. The mitogenic activity of tPA was also inhibited by siRNA depletion of EGFR, thus confirming the involvement of this receptor in tPA triggered signalling. Thirdly, we show that the signalling and mitogenic effects of tPA require its proteolytic activity, the activity of the metalloprotease-9 and active hb-EGF.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that tPA induces proliferation by triggering a proteolytic cascade that sequentially activates plasmin, metalloprotease-9 (MMP-9) and hb-EGF. These events are required to activate the EGFR signalling pathway and cell proliferation.

  • DFP, diisopropyl fluorophosphate
  • DMEM, Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle’s Medium
  • EGFR, epidermal growth factor receptor
  • ERK 1/2, extracellular activated kinases 1 and 2
  • FA, factor analysis
  • FBS, fetal bovine serum
  • hb-EGF, heparin binding-epidermal growth factor
  • MMP-9, metalloprotease-9
  • PAs, plasminogen activators
  • PCR, polymerase chain reaction
  • PDGF, platelet derived growth factor
  • rtPA, recombinant tPA
  • siRNA, small interfering RNA duplexes
  • TGFα, transforming growth factor α
  • tPA, tissue type plasminogen activator
  • uPA, urokinase type plasminogen activator
  • tissue plasminogen activator
  • pancreas cancer
  • EGF receptor
  • proliferation
  • Microarrays

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