Background Adjuvant gemcitabine for pancreatic cancer has limited efficacy in the clinical setting. Impaired drug metabolism is associated with treatment resistance. We aimed to evaluate the chemosensitising effect of interferon-beta (IFN-β).

Methods BxPC-3, CFPAC-1, and Panc-1 cells were pre-treated with IFN-β followed by gemcitabine monotherapy. The effect on cell growth, colony formation, and cell cycle was determined. RT-qPCR was used to measure gene expression. BxPC-3 cells were used in a heterotopic subcutaneous mouse model.

Results IFN-β increased sensitivity to gemcitabine (4-, 7.7-, and 1.7-fold EC50 decrease in BxPC-3, CFPAC-1, and Panc-1, respectively; all P < 0.001). Findings were confirmed when assessing colony formation. The percentage of cells in the S-phase was significantly increased after IFN-β treatment only in BxPC-3 and CFPAC-1 by 12 and 7%, respectively (p < 0.001 and p < 0.05, respectively). Thereby, IFN-β upregulated expression of the drug transporters SLC28A1 in BxPC-3 (252%) and SLC28A3 in BxPC-3 (127%) and CFPAC-1 (223%) (all p < 0.001). In vivo, combination therapy reduced tumor volume with 45% (P = 0.01). Both ex vivo and in vivo data demonstrate a significant reduction in the number of proliferating cells, whereas apoptosis was increased.

Conclusions For the first time, we validated the chemosensitising effects of IFN-β when combined with gemcitabine in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo. This was driven by cell cycle modulation and associated with an upregulation of genes involving intracellular uptake of gemcitabine. The use of IFN-β in combination with gemcitabine seems promising in patients with pancreatic cancer and needs to be further explored.,
BMC Cancer
Department of Surgery