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Original research
Exosome-delivered CD44v6/C1QBP complex drives pancreatic cancer liver metastasis by promoting fibrotic liver microenvironment


Objective Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) shows a remarkable predilection for liver metastasis. Pro-oncogenic secretome delivery and trafficking via exosomes are crucial for pre-metastatic microenvironment formation and metastasis. This study aimed to explore the underlying mechanisms of how PDAC-derived exosomes (Pex) modulate the liver microenvironment and promote metastasis.

Design C57BL/6 mice were ‘educated’ by tail vein Pex injection. The intrasplenic injection liver metastasis and PDAC orthotopic transplantation models were used to evaluate liver metastasis. Stable cell lines CD44v6 (CD44 variant isoform 6) or C1QBP (complement C1q binding protein) knockdown or overexpression was established using lentivirus transfection or gateway systems. A total of 142 patients with PDAC in Huashan Hospital were retrospectively enrolled. Prognosis and liver metastasis were predicted using Kaplan-Meier survival curves and logistic regression models.

Results Pex tail vein injection induced the deposition of liver fibrotic extracellular matrix, which promoted PDAC liver metastasis. Specifically, the exosomal CD44v6/C1QBP complex was delivered to the plasma membrane of hepatic satellite cells (HSCs), leading to phosphorylation of insulin-like growth factor 1 signalling molecules, which resulted in HSC activation and liver fibrosis. Expression of Pex CD44v6 and C1QBP in PDAC patients with liver metastasis was significantly higher than in PDAC patients without liver metastasis, and simultaneous high expression of exosomal CD44v6 and C1QBP correlated with a worse prognosis and a higher risk of postoperative PDAC liver metastasis.

Conclusion The Pex-derived CD44v6/C1QBP complex is essential for the formation of a fibrotic liver microenvironment and PDAC liver metastasis. Highly expressed exosomal CD44v6 and C1QBP are promising biomarkers for predicting prognosis and liver metastasis in patients with PDAC.

  • pancreatic cancer
  • liver metastases
  • extracellular matrix
  • fibrosis
  • molecular oncology

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. All data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its Supplementary Information files. RNA-seq data have been deposited in Gene Expression Omnibus with the primary accession code GSE148139.

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