ARTICLE ABSTRACTEarly detection of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) remains elusive. Precursor lesions of PDAC, specifically intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs), represent a bona fide pathway to invasive neoplasia, although the molecular correlates of progression remain to be fully elucidated. Single-cell transcriptomics provides a unique avenue for dissecting both the epithelial and microenvironmental heterogeneities that accompany multistep progression from noninvasive IPMNs to PDAC.
Single-cell RNA sequencing was performed through droplet-based sequencing on 5,403 cells from 2 low-grade IPMNs (LGD-IPMNs), 2 high-grade IPMNs (HGD-IPMN), and 2 PDACs (all surgically resected).
Analysis of single-cell transcriptomes revealed heterogeneous alterations within the epithelium and the tumor microenvironment during the progression of noninvasive dysplasia to invasive cancer. Although HGD-IPMNs expressed many core signaling pathways described in PDAC, LGD-IPMNs harbored subsets of single cells with a transcriptomic profile that overlapped with invasive cancer. Notably, a proinflammatory immune component was readily seen in low-grade IPMNs, composed of cytotoxic T cells, activated T-helper cells, and dendritic cells, which was progressively depleted during neoplastic progression, accompanied by infiltration of myeloid-derived suppressor cells. Finally, stromal myofibroblast populations were heterogeneous and acquired a previously described tumor-promoting and immune-evading phenotype during invasive carcinogenesis.
This study demonstrates the ability to perform high-resolution profiling of the transcriptomic changes that occur during multistep progression of cystic PDAC precursors to cancer. Notably, single-cell analysis provides an unparalleled insight into both the epithelial and microenvironmental heterogeneities that accompany early cancer pathogenesis and might be a useful substrate to identify targets for cancer interception.See related commentary by Hernandez-Barco et al., p. 2027