Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a highly aggressive and treatment-resistant malignancy. The lack of pathway-informed biomarkers hampers the development of rational diagnostics or therapies. Recently, the protein abnormal spindle-like microcephaly-associated (ASPM) was identified as a novel Wnt and stemness regulator in PDAC, while the pathogenic roles of its protein isoforms remain unclarified. We developed novel isoform-specific antibodies and genetic knockdown (KD) of putative ASPM isoforms, whereby we uncovered that the levels of ASPM isoform 1 (iI) and ASPM-iII are variably upregulated in PDAC cells. ASPM isoforms show remarkably different subcellular locations; specifically, ASPM-iI is exclusively localized to the cortical cytoplasm of PDAC cells, while ASPM-iII is predominantly expressed in cell nuclei. Mechanistically, ASPM-iI co-localizes with disheveled-2 and active β-catenin as well as the stemness marker aldehyde dehydrogenase-1 (ALDH-1), and its expression is indispensable for the Wnt activity, stemness, and the tumorigenicity of PDAC cells. By contrast, ASPM-iII selectively regulates the expression level of cyclin E and cell cycle progression in PDAC cells. The expression of ASPM-iI and ASPM-iII displays considerable intratumoral heterogeneity in PDAC tissues and only that of ASPM-iI was prognostically significant; it outperformed ALDH-1 staining and clinico-pathological variables in a multivariant analysis. Collectively, the distinct expression patterns and biological functions of ASPM isoforms may illuminate novel molecular mechanisms and prognosticators in PDAC and may pave the way for the development of therapies targeting this novel oncoprotein.
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