Small-molecule inhibition of GCNT3 disrupts mucin biosynthesis and malignant cellular behaviors in pancreatic cancer

Chinthalapally V. Rao*, Naveena B. Janakiram, Venkateshwar Madka, Gaurav Kumar, Edgar J. Scott, Gopal Pathuri, Taylor Bryant, Hannah Kutche, Yuting Zhang, Laura Biddick, Hariprasad Gali, Yan D. Zhao, Stan Lightfoot, Altaf Mohammed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive neoplasm with almost uniform lethality and a 5-year survival rate of 7%. Several overexpressed mucins that impede drug delivery to pancreatic tumors have been therapeutically targeted, but enzymes involved in mucin biosynthesis have yet to be preclinically evaluated as potential targets. We used survival data from human patients with pancreatic cancer, next-generation sequencing of genetically engineered Kras-driven mouse pancreatic tumors and human pancreatic cancer cells to identify the novel core mucin-synthesizing enzyme GCNT3 (core 2 β-1,6 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase). In mouse pancreatic cancer tumors, GCNT3 upregulation (103-fold; P < 0.0001) was correlated with increased expression of mucins (5 to 87-fold; P < 0.04-0.0003). Aberrant GCNT3 expression was also associated with increased mucin production, aggressive tumorigenesis, and reduced patient survival, and CRISPR-mediated knockout of GCNT3 in pancreatic cancer cells reduced proliferation and spheroid formation. Using in silico small molecular docking simulation approaches, we identified talniflumate as a novel inhibitor that selectively binds to GCNT3. In particular, docking predictions suggested that three notable hydrogen bonds between talniflumate and GCNT3 contribute to a docking affinity of-8.3 kcal/mol. Furthermore, talniflumate alone and in combination with low-dose gefitinib reduced GCNT3 expression, leading to the disrupted production of mucins in vivo and in vitro. Collectively, our findings suggest that targeting mucin biosynthesis through GCNT3 may improve drug responsiveness, warranting further development and investigation in preclinical models of pancreatic tumorigenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1965-1974
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


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