Mounting Pressure in the Microenvironment: Fluids, Solids, and Cells in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Gastroenterology (2016)


The microenvironment makes an important contribution to the pathogenesis of solid tumors and has an outsized role in some. Our understanding of the stromal response to cancers, particularly pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, has evolved from that of host defense to tumor offense. We know that most, though not all, of the factors and processes in the microenvironment support tumor epithelial cells. This reappraisal of the roles of stromal elements has also revealed potential vulnerabilities and therapeutic opportunities to exploit. The high concentration in the stroma of the glycosaminoglycan, hyaluronan, together with the large gel fluid phase and pressures it generates, were recently identified as primary sources of treatment resistance in pancreas cancer. Whereas the relatively minor role of free interstitial fluid in the fluid mechanics and perfusion of tumors has been long appreciated, the less mobile, gel fluid phase has been largely ignored for historical and technical reasons. The inability of classical methods of fluid pressure measurement to capture the gel fluid phase, together with a dependence on xenograft and allograft systems that inaccurately model tumor vascular biology, has led to an undue emphasis on the role of free fluid in impeding perfusion and drug delivery and an almost complete oversight of the predominant role of the gel fluid phase. We propose that a hyaluronan-rich, relatively immobile, gel fluid phase induces vascular collapse and hypoperfusion as a primary mechanism of treatment resistance in pancreas cancers. Similar properties may be operant in other solid tumors as well, so revisiting and characterizing fluid mechanics with modern techniques in other autochthonous cancers may be warranted.