Identification, Validation, and Utilization of Immune Cells in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma Based on Marker Genes

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The immune response affects tumor biological behavior and progression. The specific immune characteristics of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) can determine the metastatic abilities of cancerous cells and the survival of patients. Therefore, it is important to characterize the specific immune landscape in PDAC tissue samples, and the effect of various types of therapy on that immune composition. Previously, a set of marker genes was identified to assess the immune cell composition in different types of cancer tissue samples. However, gene expression and subtypes of immune cells may vary across different types of cancers. The aim of this study was to provide a method to identify immune cells specifically in PDAC tissue samples. The method is based on defining a specific set of marker genes expressed by various immune cells in PDAC samples. A total of 90 marker genes were selected and tested for immune cell type-specific definition in PDAC; including 43 previously used, and 47 newly selected marker genes. The immune cell-type specificity was checked mathematically by calculating the “pairwise similarity” for all candidate genes using the PDAC RNA-sequenced dataset available at The Cancer Genome Atlas. A set of 55 marker genes that identify 22 different immune cell types for PDAC was created. To validate the method and the set of marker genes, an independent mRNA expression dataset of 24 samples of PDAC patients who received various types of (neo)adjuvant treatments was used. The results showed that by applying our method we were able to identify PDAC specific marker genes to characterize immune cell infiltration in tissue samples. The method we described enabled identifying different subtypes of immune cells that were affected by various types of therapy in PDAC patients. In addition, our method can be easily adapted and applied to identify the specific immune landscape in various types of tissue samples.

Original languageEnglish
Article number649061
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was made possible with the financial support of Support Casper Foundation (

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 de Koning, Latifi, Li, van Eijck, Stubbs and Mustafa.


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