Tumor-associated macrophages in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma: Therapeutic opportunities and clinical challenges
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive malignant disease with a 5-year survival rate of less than 10%. Macrophages are one of the earliest infiltrating cells in the pancreatic tumor microenvironment, and are associated with an increased risk of disease progression, recurrence, metastasis, and shorter overall survival. Pre-clinical studies have demonstrated an unequivocal role of macrophages in PDAC by contributing to chronic inflammation, cancer cell stemness, desmoplasia, immune suppression, angiogenesis, invasion, metastasis, and drug resistance. Several macrophage-targeting therapies have also been investigated in pre-clinical models, and include macrophage depletion, inhibiting macrophage recruitment, and macrophage reprogramming. However, the effectiveness of these drugs in pre-clinical models has not always translated into clinical trials. In this review, we discuss the molecular mechanisms that underpin macrophage heterogeneity within the pancreatic tumor microenvironment, and examine the contribution of macrophages at various stages of PDAC progression. We also provide a comprehensive update of macrophage-targeting therapies that are currently undergoing clinical evaluation, and discuss clinical challenges associated with these treatment modalities in human PDAC patients.