Tumour-reprogrammed stromal BCAT1 fuels branched-chain ketoacid dependency in stromal-rich PDAC tumours

Ziwen Zhu, Abhinav Achreja, Noah Meurs, Olamide Animasahun, Sarah Owen, Anjali Mittal, Pooja Parikh, Ting Wen Lo, Janusz Franco-Barraza, Jiaqi Shi, Valerie Gunchick, Mara H. Sherman, Edna Cukierman, Andrew M. Pickering, Anirban Maitra, Vaibhav Sahai, Meredith A. Morgan, Sunitha Nagrath, Theodore S. Lawrence, Deepak Nagrath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) supply both carbon and nitrogen in pancreatic cancers, and increased levels of BCAAs have been associated with increased risk of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDACs). It remains unclear, however, how stromal cells regulate BCAA metabolism in PDAC cells and how mutualistic determinants control BCAA metabolism in the tumour milieu. Here, we show distinct catabolic, oxidative and protein turnover fluxes between cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and cancer cells, and a marked reliance on branched-chain α-ketoacid (BCKA) in PDAC cells in stroma-rich tumours. We report that cancer-induced stromal reprogramming fuels this BCKA demand. The TGF-β–SMAD5 axis directly targets BCAT1 in CAFs and dictates internalization of the extracellular matrix from the tumour microenvironment to supply amino-acid precursors for BCKA secretion by CAFs. The in vitro results were corroborated with circulating tumour cells (CTCs) and PDAC tissue slices derived from people with PDAC. Our findings reveal therapeutically actionable targets in pancreatic stromal and cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)775-792
Number of pages18
JournalNature Metabolism
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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