Elevated Serum Amino Acids Induce a Subpopulation of Alpha Cells to Initiate Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor Formation

Derek K. Smith, Lance Kates, Steffen Durinck, Nisha Patel, Eric W. Stawiski, Noelyn Kljavin, Oded Foreman, Bence Sipos, Mark J. Solloway, Bernard B. Allan, Andrew S. Peterson
Cell Reports Medicine2020
The cellular origin of sporadic pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) is obscure. Hormone expression suggests that these tumors arise from glucagon-producing alpha cells or insulin-producing b cells, but insta- bility in hormone expression prevents linage determination. We utilize loss of hepatic glucagon receptor (GCGR) signaling to drive alpha cell hyperproliferation and tumor formation to identify a cell of origin and dissect mechanisms that drive progression. Using a combination of genetically engineered Gcgr knockout mice and GCGR-inhibiting antibodies, we show that elevated plasma amino acids drive the appearance of a proliferative population of SLC38A5+ embryonic progenitor-like alpha cells in mice. Further, we characterize tumors from patients with rare bi-allelic germline GCGR loss-of-function variants and find prominent tumor- cell-associated expression of the SLC38A5 paralog SLC7A8 as well as markers of active mTOR signaling. Thus, progenitor cells arise from adult alpha cells in response to metabolic signals and, when inductive sig- nals are chronically present, drive tumor initiation.
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