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PLoS One. 2007 Apr 25;2(4):e392.

Extracellular sulfatases, elements of the Wnt signaling pathway, positively regulate growth and tumorigenicity of human pancreatic cancer cells.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.



Heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) are control elements in Wnt signaling, which bind extracellularly to Wnt ligands and regulate their ability to interact with signal transduction receptors on the cell surface. Sulf-1 and Sulf-2 are novel extracellular sulfatases that act on internal glucosamine-6-sulfate (6S) modifications within HSPGs and thereby modulate HSPG interactions with various signaling molecules, including Wnt ligands. Emerging evidence indicates the importance of reactivated Wnt signaling in a number of cancers, including pancreatic adenocarcinoma.


Both Sulf proteins were upregulated in human pancreatic adenocarcinoma tumors and were broadly expressed in human pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell lines. Expression of human extracellular sulfatases Sulf-1 and Sulf-2 enhanced Wnt signaling in a reconstituted system. Three of four pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell lines tested exhibited autocrine Wnt signaling, in that extracellular Wnt ligands were required to initiate downstream Wnt signaling. Exposure of these pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells to a catalytically inactive form of Sulf-2 or siRNA-mediated silencing of endogenous Sulf-2 inhibited both Wnt signaling and cell growth. Sulf-2 silencing in two of these lines resulted in markedly reduced tumorigenesis in immunocompromised mice.


We have identified the Sulfs as potentiators of autocrine Wnt signaling in pancreatic cancer cells and have demonstrated their contribution to the growth and tumorigenicity of these cells. Since the Sulfs are extracellular enzymes, they would be attractive targets for therapy of pancreatic cancer. Our results run counter to the prevailing view in the literature that the Sulfs are negative regulators of tumorigenesis.

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