Background: Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is characterized by an extensive desmoplastic stromal response. Fibroblast activation protein-aα (FAP) is best known for its presence in stromal cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Our aim was to assess whether FAP expression was associated with the prognosis of patients with PDAC and to investigate how FAP expressing CAFs contribute to the progression of PDAC. Methods: FAP expression was immunohistochemically assessed in 48 PDAC specimens. We also generated a fibroblastic cell line stably expressing FAP, and examined the effect of FAP-expressing fibroblasts on invasiveness and the cell cycle in MiaPaCa-2 cells (a pancreatic cancer cell line). Results: Stromal FAP expression was detected in 98 % (47/48) of the specimens of PDAC, with the intensity being weak in 16, moderate in 19, and strong in 12 specimens, but was not detected in the 3 control noncancerous pancreatic specimens. Patients with moderate or strong FAP expression had significantly lower cumulative survival rates than those with negative or weak FAP expression (mean survival time; 352 vs. 497 days, P = 0.006). Multivariate analysis identified moderate to strong expression of FAP as one of the factors associated with the prognosis in patients with PDAC. The intensity of stromal FAP expression was also positively correlated to the histological differentiation of PDAC (P < 0.05). FAP-expressing fibroblasts promoted the invasiveness of MiaPaCa-2 cells more intensively than fibroblasts not expressing FAP. Coculture with FAP-expressing fibroblasts significantly activated cell cycle shift in MiaPaCa-2 cells compared to coculture with fibroblasts not expressing FAP. Furthermore, coculture with FAP expressing fibroblasts inactivated retinoblastoma (Rb) protein, an inhibitor of cell cycle progression, in MiaPaCa-2 cells by promoting phosphorylation of Rb. Conclusions: The present in vitro results and the association of FAP expression with clinical outcomes provide us with a better understanding of the effect of FAP-expressing CAFs on the progression of PDAC.
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