Loss of SMAD4 Is Associated With Poor Tumor Immunogenicity and Reduced PD-L1 Expression in Pancreatic Cancer

Daniel R. Principe*, Patrick W. Underwood, Sandeep Kumar, Kaytlin E. Timbers, Regina M. Koch, Jose G. Trevino, Hidayatullah G. Munshi, Ajay Rana*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Transforming Growth Factor β (TGFβ) is a key mediator of immune evasion in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), and the addition of TGFβ inhibitors in select immunotherapy regimens shows early promise. Though the TGFβ target SMAD4 is deleted in approximately 55% of PDAC tumors, the effects of SMAD4 loss on tumor immunity have yet to be fully explored. Using a combination of genomic databases and PDAC specimens, we found that tumors with loss of SMAD4 have a comparatively poor T-cell infiltrate. SMAD4 loss was also associated with a reduction in several chemokines with known roles in T-cell recruitment, which was recapitulated using knockdown of SMAD4 in PDAC cell lines. Accordingly, JURKAT T-cells were poorly attracted to conditioned media from PDAC cells with knockdown of SMAD4 and lost their ability to produce IFNγ. However, while exogenous TGFβ modestly reduced PD-L1 expression in SMAD4-intact cell lines, SMAD4 and PD-L1 positively correlated in human PDAC samples. PD-L1 status was closely related to tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, particularly IFNγ-producing T-cells, which were more abundant in SMAD4-expressing tumors. Low concentrations of IFNγ upregulated PD-L1 in tumor cells in vitro, even when administered alongside high concentrations of TGFβ. Hence, while SMAD4 may have a modest inhibitory effect on PD-L1 in tumor cells, SMAD4 indirectly promotes PD-L1 expression in the pancreatic tumor microenvironment by enhancing T-cell infiltration and IFNγ biosynthesis. These data suggest that pancreatic cancers with loss of SMAD4 represent a poorly immunogenic disease subtype, and SMAD4 status warrants further exploration as a predictive biomarker for cancer immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number806963
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
StatePublished - Jan 28 2022


  • interferon γ (IFNγ)
  • pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC)
  • programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1)
  • transforming growth factor β (TGFβ)
  • tumor immunology
  • tumor mircorenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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