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Br J Cancer. 2006 Aug 7;95(3):307-13. Epub 2006 Jul 11.

Cellular differentiation determines the expression of the hypoxia-inducible protein NDRG1 in pancreatic cancer.

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Department of Clinical Research, Visceral and Transplant Surgery, University Hospital Bern, Murtenstrasse 35, Bern 3010, Switzerland.


N-myc downstream-regulated gene-1 (NDRG1) is a recently described hypoxia-inducible protein that is upregulated in various human cancers. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, called pancreatic cancer, is a highly aggressive cancer that is characterised by its avascular structure, which results in a severe hypoxic environment. In this study, we investigated whether NDRG1 is upregulated in these tumours, thus providing a novel marker for malignant cells in the pancreas. By immunohistochemistry, we observed that NDRG1 was highly expressed in well-differentiated cells of pancreatic cancer, whereas the poorly differentiated tumour cells were negative. In addition, hyperplastic islets and ducts of nonquiescent pancreatic tissue were positive. To further explore its selective expression in tumours, two well-established pancreatic cancer cell lines of unequal differentiation status were exposed to 2% oxygen. NDRG1 mRNA and protein were upregulated by hypoxia in the moderately differentiated Capan-1 cells; however, its levels remained unchanged in the poorly differentiated Panc-1 cell line. Taken together, our data suggest that NDRG1 will not serve as a reliable marker of tumour cells in the pancreas, but may serve as a marker of differentiation. Furthermore, we present the novel finding that cellular differentiation may be an important factor that determines the hypoxia-induced regulation of NDRG1.

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