Axl-mediated activation of TBK1 drives epithelial plasticity in pancreatic cancer

Victoria H. Cruz, Emily N. Arner, Wenting Du, Alberto E. Bremauntz, Rolf A. Brekken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


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 KRASmutant PDA and suggest that interruption of the Axl/TBK1 signaling cascade above or below KRAS has potential therapeutic efficacy in this recalcitrant disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere126117
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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