Effects of insulin on human pancreatic cancer progression modeled in vitro

Michelle T. Chan, Gareth E. Lim, S�s Skovs�, Yu Hsuan Carol Yang, Tobias Albrecht, Emilyn U. Alejandro, Corinne A. Hoesli, James M. Piret, Garth L. Warnock, James D. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Background: Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the most lethal cancers, yet it remains understudied and poorly understood. Hyperinsulinemia has been reported to be a risk factor of pancreatic cancer, and the rapid rise of hyperinsulinemia associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes foreshadows a rise in cancer incidence. However, the actions of insulin at the various stages of pancreatic cancer progression remain poorly defined. Methods: Here, we examined the effects of a range of insulin doses on signalling, proliferation and survival in three human cell models meant to represent three stages in pancreatic cancer progression: primary pancreatic duct cells, the HPDE immortalized pancreatic ductal cell line, and the PANC1 metastatic pancreatic cancer cell line. Cells were treated with a range of insulin doses, and their proliferation/viability were tracked via live cell imaging and XTT assays. Signal transduction was assessed through the AKT and ERK signalling pathways via immunoblotting. Inhibitors of AKT and ERK signalling were used to determine the relative contribution of these pathways to the survival of each cell model. Results: While all three cell types responded to insulin, as indicated by phosphorylation of AKT and ERK, we found that there were stark differences in insulin-dependent proliferation, cell viability and cell survival among the cell types. High concentrations of insulin increased PANC1 and HPDE cell number, but did not alter primary duct cell proliferation in vitro. Cell survival was enhanced by insulin in both primary duct cells and HPDE cells. Moreover, we found that primary cells were more dependent on AKT signalling, while HPDE cells and PANC1 cells were more dependent on RAF/ERK signalling. Conclusions: Our data suggest that excessive insulin signalling may contribute to proliferation and survival in human immortalized pancreatic ductal cells and metastatic pancreatic cancer cells, but not in normal adult human pancreatic ductal cells. These data suggest that signalling pathways involved in cell survival may be rewired during pancreatic cancer progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number814
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 6 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Chan et al.


  • AKT, ERK
  • Diabetes
  • HPDE
  • Hyperinsulinemia
  • PANC1
  • PDAC
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma


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