Targeting pancreatic cancer metastasis by inhibition of Vav1, a Driver of Tumor Cell Invasion

Gina L. Razidlo, Christopher Magnine, Arthur C. Sletten, Rachel M. Hurley, Luciana L. Almada, Martin E. Fernandez-Zapico, Baoan Ji, Mark A. McNiven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of human cancer, is largely resistant to many conventional chemother-apeutic agents. Although many therapeutic approaches focus on tumor growth, metastasis is a primary factor contributing to lethality. Therefore, novel therapies to target metastatic invasion could prevent tumor spread and recurrence resulting from local and distant metastasis. The protein Vav1 is aberrantly expressed in more than half of pancreatic cancers. Its expression promotes activation of Rac and Cdc42 and leads to enhanced invasion and migration, as well as increased tumor cell survival and proliferation, suggesting that Vav1 could be a potent therapeutic target for pancreatic cancer. The purine analogue azathioprine, well known for its function as an anti-inflammatory compound, was recently shown to function by inhibiting Vav1 signaling in immune cells. We therefore hypothesized that azathioprine could also inhibit Vav1 in pancreatic tumor cells to reduce its proinvasive functions. Indeed, we have found that treatment of cultured pancreatic tumor cells with azathioprine inhibited Vav1-dependent invasive cell migration and matrix degradation, through inhibition of Rac and Cdc42 signaling. Furthermore, azathioprine treatment decreased metastasis in both xenograft and genetic mouse models of pancreatic cancer. Strikingly, metastasis was dramatically reduced in Vav1-expressing tumors arising from p48Cre/+KrasG12/+p53F/+ mice. These inhibitory effects were mediated through Vav1, as Vav1-negative cell lines and tumors were largely resistant to azathioprine treatment. These findings demonstrate that azathioprine and related compounds could be potent antimetastatic agents for Vav1-positive pancreatic tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2907-2915
Number of pages9
JournalCancer research
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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