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Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) remains one of the most lethal human solid tumors, despite great efforts in improving therapeutics over the past few decades. In PDAC, the distinct characteristic of the tumor microenvironment (TME) is the main barrier for developing effective treatments. PDAC TME is characterized by a dense stroma, cancer-associated fibroblasts, and immune cells populations that crosstalk to the subpopulations of neoplastic cells that include cancer stem cells (CSCs). The heterogeneity in TME is also exhibited in the diversity and dynamics of acellular components, including the Extracellular matrix (ECM), cytokines, growth factors, and secreted ligands to signaling pathways. These contribute to drug resistance, metastasis, and relapse in PDAC. However, clinical trials targeting TME components have often reported unexpected results and still have not benefited patients. The failures in those trials and various efforts to understand the PDAC biology demonstrate the highly heterogeneous and multi-faceted TME compositions and the complexity of their interplay within TME. Hence, further functional and mechanistic insight is needed. In this review, we will present a current understanding of PDAC biology with a focus on the heterogeneity in TME and crosstalk among its components. We also discuss clinical challenges and the arising therapeutic opportunities in PDAC research.

Original publication




Journal article


Cancers (basel)

Publication Date





cancer therapy, fibroblasts, immune cells, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, tumor microenvironment, tumor stroma