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Oncogene. 2013 Aug 15;32(33):3867-76. doi: 10.1038/onc.2012.394. Epub 2012 Sep 3.

AGR2 is a SMAD4-suppressible gene that modulates MUC1 levels and promotes the initiation and progression of pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia.

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Department of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH, USA.


The mechanisms controlling expression of the putative oncogene Anterior gradient 2 (AGR2) in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) are not well understood. We now show that AGR2 is a transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)-responsive gene in human pancreatic cancer cells, whose downregulation is SMAD4 dependent. We also provide evidence supporting a role for AGR2 as an ER-chaperone for the cancer-associated mucin, MUC1. AGR2 is both sufficient and required for MUC1 expression in pancreatic cancer cells. Furthermore, AGR2 is coexpressed with MUC1 in mouse pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (mPanIN)-like lesions and in the cancer cells of four distinct genetically engineered mouse models of PDAC. We also show that Pdx1-Cre/LSL-Kras(G12D)/Smad4(lox/lox) mice heterozygous for Agr2 exhibit a delay in mPanIN initiation and progression to PDAC. It is proposed that loss of Smad4 may convert TGF-β from a tumor suppressor to a tumor promoter by causing the upregulation of AGR2, which then leads to increased MUC1 expression, at which point both AGR2 and MUC1 facilitate mPanIN initiation and progression to PDAC.

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