Background: The tumor microenvironment (TME) plays a crucial role in virtually every aspect of tumorigenesis of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). A dysfunctional TME promotes drug resistance, disease recurrence, and distant metastasis. Recent evidence indicates that exosomes released by stromal cells within the TME may promote oncogenic phenotypes via transferring signaling molecules such as cytokines, proteins, and microRNAs. Results: In this study, clinical GBM samples were collected and analyzed. We found that GBM-associated macrophages (GAMs) secreted exosomes which were enriched with oncomiR-21. Coculture of GAMs (and GAM-derived exosomes) and GBM cell lines increased GBM cells’ resistance against temozolomide (TMZ) by upregulating the prosurvival gene programmed cell death protein 4 (PDCD4) and stemness markers SRY (sex determining region y)-box 2 (Sox2), signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), Nestin, and miR-21-5p and increasing the M2 cytokines interleukin 6 (IL-6) and transforming growth factor beta 1(TGF-β1) secreted by GBM cells, promoting the M2 polarization of GAMs. Subsequently, pacritinib treatment suppressed GBM tumorigenesis and stemness; more importantly, pacritinib-treated GBM cells showed a markedly reduced ability to secret M2 cytokines and reduced miR-21-enriched exosomes secreted by GAMs. Pacritinib-mediated effects were accompanied by a reduction of oncomiR miR-21-5p, by which the tumor suppressor PDCD4 was targeted. We subsequently established patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models where mice bore patient GBM and GAMs. Treatment with pacritinib and the combination of pacritinib and TMZ appeared to significantly reduce the tumorigenesis of GBM/GAM PDX mice as well as overcome TMZ resistance and M2 polarization of GAMs. Conclusion: In summation, we showed the potential of pacritinib alone or in combination with TMZ to suppress GBM tumorigenesis via modulating STAT3/miR-21/PDCD4 signaling. Further investigations are warranted for adopting pacritinib for the treatment of TMZ-resistant GBM in clinical settings.
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