Tumour spheroids are common in vitro experimental models of avascular tumour growth. Compared with traditional two-dimensional culture, tumour spheroids more closely mimic the avascular tumour microenvironment where spatial differences in nutrient availability strongly influence growth. We show that spheroids initiated using significantly different numbers of cells grow to similar limiting sizes, suggesting that avascular tumours have a limiting structure; in agreement with untested predictions of classical mathematical models of tumour spheroids. We develop a novel mathematical and statistical framework to study the structure of tumour spheroids seeded from cells transduced with fluorescent cell cycle indicators, enabling us to discriminate between arrested and cycling cells and identify an arrested region. Our analysis shows that transient spheroid structure is independent of initial spheroid size, and the limiting structure can be independent of seeding density. Standard experimental protocols compare spheroid size as a function of time; however, our analysis suggests that comparing spheroid structure as a function of overall size produces results that are relatively insensitive to variability in spheroid size. Our experimental observations are made using two melanoma cell lines, but our modelling framework applies across a wide range of spheroid culture conditions and cell lines.
Code, data, and interactive figures are available as a Julia module on GitHub (https://github.com/ap-browning/Spheroids). Code used to process the experimental images is available on Zenodo (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5121093).
Quantitative analysis of tumour spheroid structurePublicly available at Github (https://github.com).
Image processing algorithm to identify structure of tumour spheroids with cell cycle labellingPublicly available at Zenodo (https://zenodo.org/).
- Nikolas K Haass
- Matthew Simpson
- Alexander P Browning
- Jesse A Sharp
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
- Jennifer Flegg, The University of Melbourne, Australia
© 2021, Browning et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) undergo epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) to drive metastatic dissemination in experimental cancer models. However, tumour cells undergoing EMT have not been observed disseminating into the tissue surrounding human tumour specimens, leaving the relevance to human cancer uncertain. We have previously identified both EpCAM and CD24 as CSC markers that, alongside the mesenchymal marker Vimentin, identify EMT CSCs in human oral cancer cell lines. This afforded the opportunity to investigate whether the combination of these three markers can identify disseminating EMT CSCs in actual human tumours. Examining disseminating tumour cells in over 12,000 imaging fields from 74 human oral tumours, we see a significant enrichment of EpCAM, CD24 and Vimentin co-stained cells disseminating beyond the tumour body in metastatic specimens. Through training an artificial neural network, these predict metastasis with high accuracy (cross-validated accuracy of 87-89%). In this study, we have observed single disseminating EMT CSCs in human oral cancer specimens, and these are highly predictive of metastatic disease.
Esophageal cancer (EC) is a fatal digestive disease with a poor prognosis and frequent lymphatic metastases. Nevertheless, reliable biomarkers for EC diagnosis are currently unavailable. Accordingly, we have performed a comparative proteomics analysis on cancer and paracancer tissue-derived exosomes from eight pairs of EC patients using label-free quantification proteomics profiling and have analyzed the differentially expressed proteins through bioinformatics. Furthermore, nano-flow cytometry (NanoFCM) was used to validate the candidate proteins from plasma-derived exosomes in 122 EC patients. Of the 803 differentially expressed proteins discovered in cancer and paracancer tissue-derived exosomes, 686 were up-regulated and 117 were down-regulated. Intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (CD54) was identified as an up-regulated candidate for further investigation, and its high expression in cancer tissues of EC patients was validated using immunohistochemistry, real-time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), and western blot analyses. In addition, plasma-derived exosome NanoFCM data from 122 EC patients concurred with our proteomic analysis. The receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis demonstrated that the AUC, sensitivity, and specificity values for CD54 were 0.702, 66.13%, and 71.31%, respectively, for EC diagnosis. Small interference (si)RNA was employed to silence the CD54 gene in EC cells. A series of assays, including cell counting kit-8, adhesion, wound healing, and Matrigel invasion, were performed to investigate EC viability, adhesive, migratory, and invasive abilities, respectively. The results showed that CD54 promoted EC proliferation, migration, and invasion. Collectively, tissue-derived exosomal proteomics strongly demonstrates that CD54 is a promising biomarker for EC diagnosis and a key molecule for EC development.