Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is characterized by an activating mutation in KRAS. Direct inhibition of KRAS through pharmacological means remains a challenge; however, targeting key KRAS effectors has therapeutic potential. We investigated the contribution of TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1), a critical downstream effector of mutant active KRAS, to PDA progression. We report that TBK1 supports the growth and metastasis of KRAS-mutant PDA by driving an epithelial plasticity program in tumor cells that enhances invasive and metastatic capacity. Further, we identify that the receptor tyrosine kinase Axl induces TBK1 activity in a Ras-RalB–dependent manner. These findings demonstrate that TBK1 is central to an Axl-driven epithelial-mesenchymal transition in KRAS-mutant PDA and suggest that interruption of the Axl/TBK1 signaling cascade above or below KRAS has potential therapeutic efficacy in this recalcitrant disease.
Victoria H. Cruz, Emily N. Arner, Wenting Du, Alberto E. Bremauntz, Rolf A. Brekken