Inhibition of de novo pyrimidine synthesis augments gemcitabine induced growth inhibition in an immunocompetent model of pancreatic cancer

Thuy Phan, Vu H. Nguyen, Ralf Buettner, Corey Morales, Lifeng Yang, Paul Wong, Weiman Tsai, Marcela D’Alincourt Salazar, Ziv Gil, Don J. Diamond, Joshua D. Rabinowitz, Steven Rosen, Laleh G. Melstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Leflunomide (Lef) is an agent used in autoimmune disorders that interferes with DNA synthesis. De Novo pyrimidine synthesis is a mechanism of Gemcitabine (Gem) resistance in pancreatic cancer. This study aims to assess the efficacy and changes in the tumor microenvironment of Lef monotherapy and in combination with Gem, in a syngeneic mouse model of pancreatic cancer. Methods: MTS proliferation assays were conducted to assess growth inhibition by Gem (0-20 nM), Lef (0-40 uM) and Gem+Lef in KPC (KrasLSL.G12D/+;p53R172H/+; PdxCretg/+) cells in vitro. An in vivo heterotopic KPC model was used and cohorts were treated with: PBS (control), Gem (75 mg/kg/q3d), Lef (40 mg/kg/d), or Gem+Lef. At d28 post-treatment, tumor burden, proliferation index (Ki67), and vascularity (CD31) were measured. Changes in the frequency of peripheral and intratumoral immune cell subsets were evaluated via FACS. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry was used for metabolomics profiling. Results: Lef inhibits KPC cell growth and synergizes with Gem in vitro (P<0.05; Combination Index 0.44 (<1 indicates synergy). In vivo, Lef alone and in combination with Gem delays KPC tumor progression (P<0.001). CTLA-4+T cells are also significantly decreased in tumors treated with Lef, Gem or in combination (Gem+Lef) compared to controls (P<0.05). Combination therapy also decreased the Ki67 and vascularity (P<0.01). Leflunomide inhibits de novo pyrimidine synthesis both in vitro (p<0.0001) and in vivo (p<0.05). Conclusions: In this study, we demonstrated that Gem+Lef inhibits pancreatic cancer growth, decrease T cell exhaustion, vascularity and as proof of principle inhibits de novo pyrimidine synthesis. Further characterization of changes in adaptive immunity are necessary to characterize the mechanism of tumor growth inhibition and facilitate translation to a clinical trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2240-2251
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Biological Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


  • De novo pyrimidine synthesis
  • Leflunomide
  • Pancreatic cancer


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