Purpose: Cancer-associated fibroblasts have emerged to be highly heterogenous and can play multifaceted roles in dictating pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) progression, immunosuppression, and therapeutic response, highlighting the need for a deeper understanding of stromal heterogeneity between patients and even within a single tumor. We hypothesized that image analysis of fibroblast subpopulations and collagen in PDAC tissues might guide stroma-based patient stratification to predict clinical outcomes and tumor characteristics. Experimental Design: A novel multiplex IHC-based image analysis system was established to digitally differentiate fibroblast subpopulations. Using whole-tissue slides from 215 treatment-nave PDACs, we performed concurrent quantification of principal fibroblast subpopulations and collagen and defined three stroma types: collagen-rich stroma, fibroblast activation protein a (FAP)dominant fibroblast-rich stroma, and a smooth muscle actin (ACTA2)-dominant fibroblast-rich stroma. These stroma types were assessed for the associations with cancer-specific survival by multivariable Cox regression analyses and with clinicopathologic factors, including CD8þ cell density. Results: FAP-dominant fibroblasts and ACTA2-dominant fibroblasts represented the principal distinct fibroblast subpopulations in tumor stroma. Stroma types were associated with patient survival, SMAD4 status, and transcriptome signatures. Compared with FAP-dominant fibroblast-rich stroma, collagen-rich stroma correlated with prolonged survival [HR, 0.57; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.33–0.99], while ACTA2-dominant fibroblast-rich stroma exhibited poorer prognosis (HR, 1.65; 95% CI, 1.06–2.58). FAP-dominant fibroblast-rich stroma was additionally characterized by restricted CD8þ cell infiltrates and intense neutrophil infiltration. Conclusions: This study identified three distinct stroma types differentially associated with survival, immunity, and molecular features, thereby underscoring the importance of stromal heterogeneity in subtyping pancreatic cancers and supporting the development of antistromal therapies.
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