Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Huamin Wang, M.D./Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andrew J. Bean, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Craig D. Logsdon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mong-hong Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Keping Xie, M.D./Ph.D.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is one of the most aggressive malignancies with less than 5% of five year survival rate. New molecular markers and new therapeutic targets are urgently needed for patients with PDA. Oncogenic receptor tyrosine kinase Axl has been reported to be overexpressed in many types of human malignancies, including diffuse glioma, melanoma, osteosarcoma, and carcinomas of lung, colon, prostate, breast, ovary, esophagus, stomach, and kidney. However, the expression and functions of Axl in PDA are unclear. We hypothesized that Axl contributes to the development and progression of PDA. We examined Axl expression in 54 human PDA samples and their paired benign pancreatic tissue by immunohistochemistry, we found that Axl was overexpressed in 70% of stage II PDAs, but only 22% of benign ducts (P=0.0001). Axl overexpression was associated with higher frequencies of distant metastasis and was an independent prognostic factor for both poor overall and recurrence-free survivals in patients with stage II PDA (p = 0.03 and 0.04). Axl silencing by shRNA in pancreatic cancer cell lines, panc-28 and Panc-1, decreased tumor cell migration and invasion and sensitized PDA cells to apoptosis stimuli such as γ-irradiation and serum starvation. In addition, we found that Axl-mediated Akt and NF-κB activation and up regulation of MMP2 were involved in the invasion, migration and survival of PDA cells. Thus, we demonstrate that Axl plays an important role in the development and progression of PDA. Targeting Axl signaling pathway may represent a new approach for the treatment of PDA.

To understand the molecular mechanisms of Axl overexpression in PDA, we found that Axl expression was down-regulated by hematopoietic progenitor kinase 1 (HPK1), a newly identified tumor suppressor in PDA. HPK1 is lost in over 95% of PDAs. Restoration of HPK1 in PDA cells down-regulated Axl expression. HPK1-mediated Axl degradation was inhibited by leupeptin, baflomycin A1, and monensin, suggesting that HPK1-mediated Axl degradation was through endocytosis-lysosome pathway. HPK1 interacted with and phosphorylated dynamin, a critical component of endocytosis pathway. Overexpression of dominant negative form of dynamin blocked the HPK1-mediated Axl degradation. Therefore we concluded that HPK1-mediated Axl degradation was through endocytosis-lysosome pathway and loss of HPK1 expression may contribute to Axl overexpression in PDAs.


Pancreatic cancer, Axl, Survival, Migration, Invasion, HPK1, Endocytosis, Dynamin, Akt