Cancer-associated inflammation is a molecular key feature in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Oncogenic KRAS in conjunction with persistent inflammation is known to accelerate carcinogenesis, although the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Here, we outline a novel pathway whereby the transcription factors NFATc1 and STAT3 cooperate in pancreatic epithelial cells to promote Kras G12D - driven carcinogenesis. NFATc1 activation is induced by inflammation and itself accelerates inflammation-induced carcinogenesis in KrasG12D mice, whereas genetic or pharmacologic ablation of NFATc1 attenuates this effect. Mechanistically, NFATc1 complexes with STAT3 for enhancer-promoter communications at jointly regulated genes involved in oncogenesis, for example, Cyclin, EGFR and WNT family members. The NFATc1-STAT3 cooperativity is operative in pancreatitis-mediated carcinogenesis as well as in established human pancreatic cancer. Together, these studies unravel new mechanisms of inflammatory-driven pancreatic carcinogenesis and suggest beneficial effects of chemopreventive strategies using drugs that are currently available for targeting these factors in clinical trials. SIGNIFICANCE: Our study points to the existence of an oncogenic NFATc1-STAT3 cooperativity that mechanistically links inflammation with pancreatic cancer initiation and progression. Because NFATc1-STAT3 nucleoprotein complexes control the expression of gene networks at the intersection of inflammation and cancer, our study has signifi cant relevance for potentially managing pancreatic cancer and other inflammatory-driven malignancies.
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