RET isoforms contribute differentially to invasive processes in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a therapeutically challenging disease with poor survival rates, owing to late diagnosis and early dissemination. These tumors frequently undergo perineural invasion, spreading along nerves regionally and to distant sites. The RET receptor tyrosine kinase is implicated in increased aggressiveness, local invasion, and metastasis in multiple cancers, including PDAC. RET mediates directional motility and invasion towards sources of its neurotrophic factor ligands, suggesting that it may enhance perineural invasion of tumor cells towards nerves. RET is expressed as two main isoforms, RET9 and RET51, which differ in their protein interactions and oncogenic potentials, however, the contributions of RET isoforms to neural invasion have not been investigated. In this study, we generated total RET and isoform-specific knockdown PDAC cell lines and assessed the contributions of RET isoforms to PDAC invasive spread. Our data show that RET activity induces cell polarization and actin remodeling through activation of CDC42 and RHOA GTPases to promote directional motility in PDAC cells. Further, we show that RET interacts with the adaptor protein TKS5 to induce invadopodia formation, enhance matrix degradation and promote tumor cell invasion through a SRC and GRB2-dependent mechanism. Finally, we show that RET51 is the predominant isoform contributing to these RET-mediated invasive processes in PDAC. Together, our work suggests that RET expression in pancreatic cancers may enhance tumor aggressiveness by promoting perineural invasion, and that RET expression may be a valuable marker of invasiveness, and a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of these cancers.

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Fig. 1: RET knockdown induces isoform-specific changes in morphology and cell motility in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells.
Fig. 2: RET induces cell polarization towards GDNF.
Fig. 3: RET induces formation of F-actin and TKS5-rich structures.
Fig. 4: RET associates with TKS5.
Fig. 5: RET activity enhances formation of invadopodia.
Fig. 6: RET51 enhances proteolytic activity in PDAC cells.
Fig. 7: RET51 is primarily responsible for PDAC cell invasion.
Fig. 8: RET functions in PDAC cells.


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The authors would like to thank Dr. Marco Magalhaes (University of Toronto) for the gift of TKS5 constructs and Dr. Donald Maurice (Queen’s University) for providing human smooth muscle cell lines.


This work was supported by an operating grant from the Cancer Research Society of Canada (19439) and a Canadian Institutes for Health Research operating grant (MOP-142303 (LMM)) and postdoctoral fellowship (398979 (SM)), and Canadian Graduate Scholarship (SMM) and by Ontario Graduate Scholarships and studentships from the Terry Fox Research Institute Training Program in Transdisciplinary Cancer Research (EYL, SMM).

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Lian, E.Y., Hyndman, B.D., Moodley, S. et al. RET isoforms contribute differentially to invasive processes in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Oncogene 39, 6493–6510 (2020).

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