Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) tumor growth is enhanced by tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs), yet the mechanisms by which tumor cells and TAMs communicate are not fully understood. Here researchers from the PENN State University College of Medicine show that exosomes secreted by PDAC cell lines differed in their surface proteins, lipid composition, and efficiency of fusing with THP-1-derived macrophages in vitro. Exosomes from AsPC-1, an ascites-derived human PDAC cell line, were enriched in ICAM-1, which mediated their docking to macrophages through interactions with surface-exposed CD11c on macrophages. AsPC-1 exosomes also contained much higher levels of arachidonic acid (AA), and they fused at a higher rate with THP-1-derived macrophages than did exosomes from other PDAC cell lines or from an immortalized normal pancreatic ductal epithelial cell line (HPDE) H6c7. Phospholipase A2 enzymatic cleavage of arachidonic acid from AsPC-1 exosomes reduced fusion efficiency. PGE2 secretion was elevated in macrophages treated with AsPC-1 exosomes but not in macrophages treated with exosomes from other cell lines, suggesting a functional role for the AsPC-1 exosome-delivered arachidonic acid in macrophages. Non-polarized (M0) macrophages treated with AsPC-1 exosomes had increased levels of surface markers indicative of polarization to an immunosuppressive M2-like phenotype (CD14hi CD163hi CD206hi). Furthermore, macrophages treated with AsPC-1 exosomes had significantly increased secretion of pro-tumoral, bioactive molecules including VEGF, MCP-1, IL-6, IL-1β, MMP-9, and TNFα. Together, these results demonstrate that compared to exosomes from other primary tumor-derived PDAC cell lines, AsPC-1 exosomes alter THP-1-derived macrophage phenotype and function. AsPC-1 exosomes mediate communication between tumor cells and TAMs that contributes to tumor progression.
Proposed model for the immunomodulatory and pro-tumoral effects of AsPC-1 exosomes
While lipids form the basis of exosome membrane structure, exosomes may also shuttle bioactive lipid mediators, such as AA, between tumor cells and macrophages to promote a local, pro-tumor microenvironment.