Dense fibrotic stroma associated with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a major obstacle for drug delivery to the tumor bed and plays a crucial role in pancreatic cancer progression. Current, anti-stromal therapies have failed to improve tumor response to chemotherapy and patient survival. Furthermore, recent studies show that stroma impedes tumor progression, and its complete ablation accelerates PDAC progression. In an effort to understand the molecular mechanisms associated with tumor-stromal interactions, using in vitro and in vivo models and PDAC patient biopsies, we show that the loss of miR-29 is a common phenomenon of activated pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs)/fibroblasts, the major stromal cells responsible for fibrotic stromal reaction. Loss of miR-29 is correlated with a significant increase in extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition, a major component in PDAC stroma. Our in vitro miR-29 gain/loss-of-function studies document the role of miR-29 in PSC-mediated ECM stromal protein accumulation. Overexpression of miR-29 in activated stellate cells reduced stromal deposition, cancer cell viability, and cancer growth in co-culture. Furthermore, the loss of miR-29 in TGF-β1 activated PSCs is SMAD3 dependent. These results provide insights into the mechanistic role of miR-29 in PDAC stroma and its potential use as a therapeutic agent to target PDAC.
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