Sonic-hedgehog pathway inhibition normalizes desmoplastic tumor microenvironment to improve chemo- and nanotherapy

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Targeting the rich extracellular matrix of desmoplastic tumors has been successfully shown to normalize collagen and hyaluronan levels and re-engineer intratumoral mechanical forces, improving tumor perfusion and chemotherapy. As far as targeting the abundant cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) in desmoplastic tumors is concerned, while both pharmacologic inhibition of the sonic-hedgehog pathway and genetic depletion of fibroblasts have been employed in pancreatic cancers, the results between the two methods have been contradictory. In this study, we employed vismodegib to inhibit the sonic-hedgehog pathway with the aim to i) elucidate the mechanism of how CAFs depletion improves drug delivery, ii) extent and evaluate the potential use of sonic-hedgehog inhibitors to breast cancers, and iii) investigate whether sonic-hedgehog inhibition improves not only chemotherapy, but also the efficacy of the most commonly used breast cancer nanomedicines, namely Abraxane® and Doxil®. We found that treatment with vismodegib normalizes the tumor microenvironment by reducing the proliferative CAFs and in cases the levels of collagen and hyaluronan. These modulations re-engineered the solid and fluid stresses in the tumors, improving blood vessel functionality. As a result, the delivery and efficacy of chemotherapy was improved in two models of pancreatic cancer. Additionally, vismodegib treatment significantly improved the efficacy of both Abraxane and Doxil in xenograft breast tumors. Our results suggest the use of vismodegib, and sonic hedgehog inhibitors in general, to enhance cancer chemo- and nanotherapy.Graphical abstractVismodegib normalizes cancer-associated fibroblasts and tumor extracellular fibers, improving the delivery of chemotherapeutics and nanomedicines in pancreatic and breast cancers.

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