Background: The seed and soil hypothesis was proposed over a century ago to describe why cancer cells (seeds) grow in certain organs (soil). Since then, the genetic properties that define the cancer cells have been heavily investigated; however, genomic mediators within the organ microenvironment that mediate successful metastatic growth are less understood. These studies sought to identify cancer- and organ-specific genomic programs that mediate metastasis. Methods: In these studies, a set of 14 human breast cancer patient-derived xenograft (PDX) metastasis models was developed and then tested for metastatic tropism with two approaches: spontaneous metastases from mammary tumors and intravenous injection of PDX cells. The transcriptomes of the cancer cells when growing as tumors or metastases were separated from the transcriptomes of the microenvironment via species-specific separation of the genomes. Drug treatment of PDX spheroids was performed to determine if genes activated in metastases may identify targetable mediators of viability. Results: The experimental approaches that generated metastases in PDX models were identified. RNA sequencing of 134 tumors, metastases, and normal non-metastatic organs identified cancer- and organ-specific genomic properties that mediated metastasis. A common genomic response of the liver microenvironment was found to occur in reaction to the invading PDX cells. Genes within the cancer cells were found to be either transiently regulated by the microenvironment or permanently altered due to clonal selection of metastatic sublines. Gene Set Enrichment Analyses identified more than 400 gene signatures that were commonly activated in metastases across basal-like PDXs. A Src signaling signature was found to be extensively upregulated in metastases, and Src inhibitors were found to be cytotoxic to PDX spheroids. Conclusions: These studies identified that during the growth of breast cancer metastases, there were genomic changes that occurred within both the cancer cells and the organ microenvironment. We hypothesize that pathways upregulated in metastases are mediators of viability and that simultaneously targeting changes within different cancer cell pathways and/or different tissue compartments may be needed for inhibition of disease progression.
Alzubi, M. A., Turner, T. H., Olex, A. L., Sohal, S. S., Tobin, N. P., Recio, S. G., … Harrell, J. C. (2019). Separation of breast cancer and organ microenvironment transcriptomes in metastases. Breast Cancer Research, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13058-019-1123-2