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.
There are no sequencing datasets associated with this study. Publicly available packages used to analyse immunofluorescent images are listed in the methods section.
Single-Cell Transcriptomic Analysis of Primary and Metastatic Tumor Ecosystems in Head and Neck CancerNCBI Gene Expression Omnibus, GSE103322.
- Gehad Youssef
- Michael P Philpott
- Adrian Biddle
- Leah Ambler
- Adrian Biddle
- Alice Scemama
- Adrian Biddle
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Human subjects: Archival human specimens and associated de-identified clinical data was accessed under UK HRA approval with REC ref 18/WM/0326.
- Lynne-Marie Postovit, University of Alberta, Canada
- Received: June 19, 2023
- Accepted: November 15, 2023
- Accepted Manuscript published: November 17, 2023 (version 1)
© 2023, Youssef 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.
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.
Disruption of intercellular communication within tumors is emerging as a novel potential strategy for cancer-directed therapy. Tumor-Treating Fields (TTFields) therapy is a treatment modality that has itself emerged over the past decade in active clinical use for patients with glioblastoma and malignant mesothelioma, based on the principle of using low-intensity alternating electric fields to disrupt microtubules in cancer cells undergoing mitosis. There is a need to identify other cellular and molecular effects of this treatment approach that could explain reported increased overall survival when TTFields are added to standard systemic agents. Tunneling nanotube (TNTs) are cell-contact-dependent filamentous-actin-based cellular protrusions that can connect two or more cells at long-range. They are upregulated in cancer, facilitating cell growth, differentiation, and in the case of invasive cancer phenotypes, a more chemoresistant phenotype. To determine whether TNTs present a potential therapeutic target for TTFields, we applied TTFields to malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) cells forming TNTs in vitro. TTFields at 1.0 V/cm significantly suppressed TNT formation in biphasic subtype MPM, but not sarcomatoid MPM, independent of effects on cell number. TTFields did not significantly affect function of TNTs assessed by measuring intercellular transport of mitochondrial cargo via intact TNTs. We further leveraged a spatial transcriptomic approach to characterize TTFields-induced changes to molecular profiles in vivo using an animal model of MPM. We discovered TTFields induced upregulation of immuno-oncologic biomarkers with simultaneous downregulation of pathways associated with cell hyperproliferation, invasion, and other critical regulators of oncogenic growth. Several molecular classes and pathways coincide with markers that we and others have found to be differentially expressed in cancer cell TNTs, including MPM specifically. We visualized short TNTs in the dense stromatous tumor material selected as regions of interest for spatial genomic assessment. Superimposing these regions of interest from spatial genomics over the plane of TNT clusters imaged in intact tissue is a new method that we designate Spatial Profiling of Tunneling nanoTubes (SPOTT). In sum, these results position TNTs as potential therapeutic targets for TTFields-directed cancer treatment strategies. We also identified the ability of TTFields to remodel the tumor microenvironment landscape at the molecular level, thereby presenting a potential novel strategy for converting tumors at the cellular level from ‘cold’ to ‘hot’ for potential response to immunotherapeutic drugs.