Serine hydrolases (SHs) are among the largest classes of enzymes in humans and play crucial role in many pathophysiological processes of cancer. We have undertaken a comprehensive proteomic analysis to assess the differential expression and cellular localization of SHs, which uncovered distinctive expression of Carboxylesterase 2 (CES2), the most efficient carboxyl esterase in activating the prodrug irinotecan into SN-38, in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). We therefore assessed the extent of heterogeneity in CES2 expression in PDAC and its potential relevance to irinotecan based therapy.
CES2 expression in PDAC and paired nontumor tissues was evaluated by immunohistochemistry. CES2 activity was assessed by monitoring the hydrolysis of the substrate p-NPA and correlated with irinotecan IC50 values by means of Pearson’s correlation. Kaplan-Meier and Cox regression analyses were applied to assess the association between overall survival and CES2 expression in patients who underwent neoadjuvant FOLFIRINOX treatment. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Statistically significant overexpression of CES2, both at the mRNA and protein levels, was observed in PDAC compared with paired nontumor tissue (P < .001), with 48 of 118 (40.7%) tumors exhibiting high CES2 expression. CES2 activity in 11 PDAC cell lines was inversely correlated with irinotecan IC50 values (R = -0.68, P = .02). High CES2 expression in tumor tissue was associated with longer overall survival in resectable and borderline resectable patients who underwent neoadjuvant FOLFIRINOX treatment (hazard ratio = 0.14, 95% confidence interval = 0.04 to 0.51, P = .02).
Our findings suggest that CES2 expression and activity, by mediating the intratumoral activation of irinotecan, is a contributor to FOLFIRINOX sensitivity in pancreatic cancer and CES2 assessment may define a subset of patients likely to respond to irinotecan based therapy.