Background: CC chemokine receptor-7 (CCR7), which plays a critical role in the migration of activated dendritic cells to regional lymph nodes via afferent lymphatic vessels, is also expressed by human breast and melanoma cell lines. Because neoplastic cells also enter lymphatic vessels before metastasis to the lymph nodes, we investigated whether CCR7 expression enhances metastasis of B16 murine melanoma cells to regional lymph nodes.
Methods: B16 cells were transduced with a retroviral vector containing CCR7 complementary DNA (CCR7-B16 cells) or with vector alone (pLNCX2-B16 control cells). The functional assay for CCR7 protein was Ca(2+) flux stimulated by the chemokine CCL21, a CCR7-specific ligand produced by lymphatic endothelial cells. B16 tumor cells were injected into the footpad of mice. Tumor cell metastasis to draining lymph nodes was assessed by measuring messenger RNA (mRNA) for tyrosinase-related protein-1 (TRP), a melanocyte-specific enzyme, with real-time, quantitative reverse transcription-coupled polymerase chain reaction. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: One week after injection into the footpad, 701-fold (95% confidence interval [CI] = 64- to 1336-fold) more TRP mRNA was detected in draining lymph nodes from CCR7-B16 cell-injected mice than in those from control cell-injected mice. Three weeks after footpad injection, 58% (11 of 19) of the draining lymph nodes from CCR7-B16 cell-injected mice and 5% (one of 19) of those from control mice showed gross metastases (P<.001). CCR7-B16 cells isolated from lymph node metastases retained functional CCR7 expression. Lymph node metastasis of CCR7-B16 cells was blocked by neutralizing anti-CCL21 antibodies (metastasis in none of five lymph nodes) but not by control immunoglobulin G (three of five). Enhanced metastasis of CCR7-B16 cells was specific for a lymphatic route because both CCR7-B16 and control cells co-injected intravenously metastasized to the lung at the same frequency.
Conclusion: Expression of a single chemokine receptor gene, CCR7, increased B16 cell metastasis to draining lymph nodes, suggesting that cancer cells may co-opt normal mechanisms of lymph node homing during metastasis.