Gemcitabine (GEM) resistance is a critical issue for pancreatic cancer treatment. The involvement of epigenetic modification in GEM resistance is still unclear. We established a GEM-resistant subline PANC-1-R from the parental PANC- 1 pancreatic cancer cells and found the elevation of various chromatin-modifying enzymes including G9a in GEM-resistant cells. Ectopic expression of G9a in PANC-1 cells increased GEM resistance while inactivation of G9a in PANC-1-R cells reduced it. Challenge of PANC-1 cells with GEM increased the expression of stemness markers including CD133, nestin and Lgr5 and promoted sphere forming activity suggesting chemotherapy enriched cancer cells with stem-like properties. Inhibition of G9a in PANC-1-R cells reduced stemness and invasiveness and sensitized the cells to GEM. We revealed interleukin-8 (IL-8) is a downstream effector of G9a to increase GEM resistance. G9a-overexpressing PANC-1-R cells exhibited autocrine IL-8/CXCR1/2 stimulation to increase GEM resistance which could be decreased by anti-IL-8 antibody and G9a inhibitor. IL-8 released by cancer cells also activated pancreatic stellate cell (PSC) to increase GEM resistance. In orthotopic animal model, GEM could not suppress tumor growth of PANC-1-R cells and eventually promoted tumor metastasis. Combination with G9a inhibitor and GEM reduced tumor growth, metastasis, IL-8 expression and PSC activation in animals. Finally, we showed that overexpression of G9a correlated with poor survival and early recurrence in pancreatic cancer patients. Collectively, our results suggest G9a is a therapeutic target to override GEM resistance in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
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