Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology Department

First Thesis Advisor

Brian C. Lewis, PhD


Pancreatic Ductal Carcinoma, Multiprotein Complexes, TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases, Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)


Dissertations, UMMS; Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal; Multiprotein Complexes; TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases; Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer, develops through progression of premalignant pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasias (PanINs). In mouse-models, KRAS-activation in acinar cells induced an acinar-to-ductal metaplasia (ADM), and mutation of the Kras oncogene is believed to initiate PanIN formation. ADM is also promoted by pancreatic injury, which cooperates with activated KRAS to stimulate PanIN and PDAC formation from metaplastic ducts.

Our lab, and others, have shown that the downstream PI3K/AKT pathway is important for KRAS-mediated proliferation and survival in vitro and in vivo. Prior studies have demonstrated that full activation of AKT requires both PDK1- mediated phosphorylation of AKTT308 and mTOR complex 2 (mTORC2)-mediated phosphorylation of AKTS473. Given the importance of the PI3K/AKT signaling axis, I hypothesized that mTORC2 is required for KRAS-driven pancreatic tumorigenesis and investigated this relationship in mice by combining pancreasspecific expression of an activated KRASG12D molecule with deletion of the essential mTORC2 subunit RICTOR.

In the context of activated KRAS, Rictor-null pancreata developed fewer PanIN lesions; these lesions lacked mTORC2 signaling and their proliferation and progression were impaired. Higher levels of nuclear cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors (CDKIs) were maintained in Rictor-null lesions, and nuclear BMI1, a known regulator of the CDKI Cdkn2a, inversely correlated with their expression.Rictor was not required for KRAS-driven ADM following acute pancreatitis, however the inverse correlation between CDKIs and BMI1 was maintained in this system. Treatment of PDX-Cre;KRASG12D/+;Trp53R172H/+ mice with an mTORC1/2 inhibitor delayed tumor formation, and prolonged the survival of mice with late stage PDAC. Knockdown of Rictor in established PDAC cell lines impaired proliferation and anchorage independent growth supporting a role for mTORC2 in fully transformed cells.

These data suggest that mTORC2 cooperates with activated KRAS in the initiation and progression of PanIN lesions and is required for the transformation and maintenance of PDAC. My work illustrates phenotypic differences between pancreatic loss of Rictor and PDK1 in the context of KRAS, broadens our understanding of this signaling node and suggests that mTORC2 may potentially be a viable target for PDAC therapies.



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