Pancreatic stellate cells (PSC), which are implicated in desmoplasia in pancreatic cancer, enhance the malignancy of cancer cells and confer resistance to established treatments. We investigated whether the antifibrotic agent pirfenidone can suppress desmoplasia and exert antitumor effects against pancreatic cancer. Primary PSCs were established from pancreatic cancer tissue obtained during surgery. In vitro, pirfenidone inhibited the proliferation, invasiveness, and migration of PSCs in a dose-dependent manner. Although supernatants of untreated PSCs increased the proliferation, invasiveness, and migration of pancreatic cancer cells (PCC), supernatants of pirfenidone-treated PSCs decreased these effects. Exposure to PCC supernatant increased the production of platelet-derived growth factor-A, hepatic growth factor, collagen type I, fibronectin, and periostin in PSCs, which was significantly reduced by pirfenidone. Mice were subcutaneously implanted with PCCs (SUIT-2 cells) and PSCs into the right flank and PCCs alone into the left flank. Oral administration of pirfenidone to these mice significantly reduced tumor growth of co-implanted PCCs and PSCs, but not of PCCs alone. Pirfenidone also decreased the proliferation of PSCs and the deposition of collagen type I and periostin in tumors. In mice with orthotopic tumors consisting of PCCs co-implanted with PSCs, pirfenidone suppressed tumor growth, reduced the number of peritoneal disseminated nodules, and reduced the incidence of liver metastasis. Pirfenidone in combination with gemcitabine more effectively suppressed orthotopic tumor growth compared with pirfenidone or gemcitabine alone. In conclusion, our findings indicate that pirfenidone is a promising antitumor agent for pancreatic cancer, owing to its suppression of desmoplasia through regulating PSCs.
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