Background: The current standard therapy for metastatic pancreatic cancer is ineffective, necessitating a new treatment approach for prognosis improvement. The urokinase-plasmin activator (uPA) is a critical factor in epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and cancer metastasis, but its underlying mechanisms in pancreatic cancer remains elusive. Methods: We investigated uPA expression in our pancreatic cancer cohort. A bioinformatics approach was used to further determine the role of uPA in pancreatic cancer. We employed MiaPaCa-2 and PANC-1 cell lines to investigate how uPA regulates EMT and metastasis in pancreatic cancer and present a novel approach aimed at inhibiting uPA in pancreatic cancer. Results: We observed that higher uPA mRNA expression was significantly associated with overall-poor survival and progression-free survival in pancreatic cancer. uPA was highly expressed in tumor tissue. Gene set enrichment analysis revealed a positive association between uPA mRNA expression and EMT and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling pathways. Moreover, shRNA-mediated uPA gene knockdown reduced plasmin, MMP14, and TGF-β activation, leading to the inhibition of PANC-1 cells’ EMT marker expression, migration, invasion, and cell viability. Notably, 4-acetyl-antroquinonol B (4-AAQB) treatment suppressed MiaPaCa-2 and PANC-1 cell migratory and invasive abilities by inhibiting the uPA/MMP14/TGF-β axis through upregulation of miR-181d-5p. In the xenograft mouse model of orthotropic pancreatic cancer, 4-AAQB treatment has reduced tumor growth and metastasis rate by deactivating uPA and improving the survival of the mice model. Conclusion: Accordingly, to extent of our knowledge and previous studies, we demonstrated that 4-AAQB is an anti Pan-Cancer drug, and may inhibit pancreatic cancer EMT and metastasis and serve as a new therapeutic approach for patients with late-stage pancreatic cancer.
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