Inhibiting signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 increases response to gemcitabine and delays progression of pancreatic cancer

Kolaparthi Venkatasubbarao, Lindsay Peterson, Shujie Zhao, Ping Hill, Lin Cao, Qing Zhou, Steffan T. Nawrocki, James W. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: Among the solid tumors, human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) has the worst prognosis. Gemcitabine is the standard first line of therapy for pancreatic cancer but has limited efficacy due to inherent or rapid development of resistance and combining EGFR inhibitors with this regimen results in only a modest clinical benefit. The goal of this study was to identify molecular targets that are activated during gemcitabine therapy alone or in combination with an EGFR inhibitor.Methods: PDAC cell lines were used to determine molecular changes and rates of growth after treatment with gemcitabine or an EGFR inhibitor, AG1478, by Western blot analysis and MTT assays respectively. Flow cytometric analysis was performed to study the cell cycle progression and rate of apoptosis after gemcitabine treatment. ShRNA was used to knockdown STAT3. An in vivo orthotopic animal model was used to evaluate STAT3 as a target. Immunohistochemical analysis was performed to analyze Ki67 and STAT3 expression in tumors.Results: Treatment with gemcitabine increased the levels of EGFRTyr1068 and ERK phosphorylation in the PDAC cell lines tested. The constitutive STAT3Tyr705 phosphorylation observed in PDAC cell lines was not altered by treatment with gemcitabine. Treatment of cells with gemcitabine or AG1478 resulted in differential rate of growth inhibition. AG1478 efficiently blocked the phosphorylation of EGFRTyr1068 and inhibited the phosphorylation of down-stream effectors AKT and ERKs, while STAT3Tyr705 phosphorylation remained unchanged. Combining these two agents neither induced synergistic growth suppression nor inhibited STAT3Tyr705 phosphorylation, thus prompting further studies to assess whether targeting STAT3 improves the response to gemcitabine or AG1478. Indeed, knockdown of STAT3 increased sensitivity to gemcitabine by inducing pro-apoptotic signals and by increasing G1 cell cycle arrest. However, knockdown of STAT3 did not enhance the growth inhibitory potential of AG1478. In vivo orthotopic animal model results show that knockdown of STAT3 caused a significant reduction in tumor burden and delayed tumor progression with increased response to gemcitabine associated with a decrease in the Ki-67 positive cells.Conclusions: This study suggests that STAT3 should be considered an important molecular target for therapy of PDAC for enhancing the response to gemcitabine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalMolecular Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 11 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer therapy
  • EGFR inhibitor
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • STAT3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Inhibiting signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 increases response to gemcitabine and delays progression of pancreatic cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this