Epithelial-mesenchymal transition in undifferentiated carcinoma of the pancreas with and without osteoclast-like giant cells

Paola Mattiolo, Giulia Fiadone, Gaetano Paolino, Deyali Chatterjee, Riccardo Bernasconi, Paola Piccoli, Claudia Parolini, Mouad El Aidi, Nicola Sperandio, Giuseppe Malleo, Roberto Salvia, Lodewijk A. Brosens, Laura D. Wood, Aldo Scarpa, Rita T. Lawlor, Claudio Luchini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Undifferentiated carcinoma (UC) and undifferentiated carcinoma with osteoclast-like giant cells (UCOGC) are peculiar variants of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), characterized by hypercellularity and absence of glandular patterns. The inflammatory microenvironment is peculiar in UCOGC, since it is dominated by macrophages and osteoclast-like giant cells. However, from a molecular point of view, both UC and UCOGC are very similar to conventional PDAC, sharing alterations of the most common genetic drivers. Clinically, UC usually show a worse prognosis, whereas UCOGC may show a better prognosis if it is not associated with a PDAC component. To highlight potential biological differences between these entities, we investigated the role of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in UC and UCOGC. Specifically, we analyzed the immunohistochemical expression of three well-known EMT markers, namely Twist1, Snai2, and E-cadherin, in 16 cases of UCOGC and 10 cases of UC. We found that EMT is more frequently activated in UC (10/10 cases) than in UCOGC (8/16 cases; p = 0.05). Furthermore, in UCOGC, EMT was activated with a higher frequency in cases with an associated PDAC component. Snai2 was the most frequently and strongly expressed marker in both tumor types (10/10 UC, 8/16 UCOGC), and its expression was higher in UC than in UCOGC (mean immunohistochemical score: 4.8 in UC vs. 2.1 in UCOGC, p < 0.01). Our results shed new light on the biology of UC and UCOGC: EMT appeared as a more important process in UC, and Snai2 emerged as a central EMT effector in this setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-326
Number of pages8
JournalVirchows Archiv
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • EMT
  • Osteoclast
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Snai2
  • Twist1
  • Undifferentiated

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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