Apoptosis: an early event in metastatic inefficiency

Cancer Res. 2001 Jan 1;61(1):333-8.


Whereas large numbers of cells from a primary tumor may gain access to the circulation, few of them will give rise to metastases. The mechanism of elimination of these tumor cells, often termed "metastatic inefficiency," is poorly understood. In this study, we show that apoptosis in the lungs within 1-2 days of introduction of the cells is an important component of metastatic inefficiency. First, we show that death of transformed, metastatic rat embryo cells occurred via apoptosis in the lungs 24-48 h after injection into the circulation. Second, we show that Bcl-2 overexpression in these cells inhibited apoptosis in culture and also conferred resistance to apoptosis in vivo in the lungs 24-48 h after injection. This inhibition of apoptosis led to significantly more macroscopic metastases. Third, comparison between the extent of apoptosis by a poorly metastatic cell line to that by a highly metastatic cell line 24 h after injection in the lungs revealed more apoptosis by the poorly metastatic cell line. These results indicate that apoptosis, which occurs at 24-48 h after hematogenous dissemination in the lungs is an important determinant of metastatic inefficiency. Although prior work has shown an association between apoptosis in culture and metastasis in vivo, this work shows that apoptosis in vivo corresponds to decreased metastasis in vivo.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Fibrosarcoma / metabolism
  • Fibrosarcoma / pathology
  • Fibrosarcoma / secondary
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Melanoma, Experimental / metabolism
  • Melanoma, Experimental / pathology
  • Melanoma, Experimental / secondary
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / biosynthesis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology
  • Rats
  • Sarcoma, Experimental / metabolism
  • Sarcoma, Experimental / pathology
  • Sarcoma, Experimental / secondary


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins