Nat Commun. 2021 Oct 5;12(1):5826. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-26059-4.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is projected to be the second leading cause of cancer mortality by 2030. Bulk transcriptomic analyses have distinguished ‘classical’ from ‘basal-like’ tumors with more aggressive clinical behavior. We derive PDAC organoids from 18 primary tumors and two matched liver metastases, and show that ‘classical’ and ‘basal-like’ cells coexist in individual organoids. By single-cell transcriptome analysis of PDAC organoids and primary PDAC, we identify distinct tumor cell states shared across patients, including a cycling progenitor cell state and a differentiated secretory state. Cell states are connected by a differentiation hierarchy, with ‘classical’ cells concentrated at the endpoint. In an imaging-based drug screen, expression of ‘classical’ subtype genes correlates with better drug response. Our results thus uncover a functional hierarchy of PDAC cell states linked to transcriptional tumor subtypes, and support the use of PDAC organoids as a clinically relevant model for in vitro studies of tumor heterogeneity.