Imaging the recruitment of cancer-associated fibroblasts by liver-metastatic colon cancer

J Cell Biochem. 2011 Mar;112(3):949-53. doi: 10.1002/jcb.23011.


The tumor microenvironment (TME) is critical for tumor growth and progression. However, the formation of the TME is largely unknown. This report demonstrates a color-coded imaging model in which the development of the TME can be visualized. In order to image the TME, a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing mouse was used as the host which expresses GFP in all organs but not the parenchymal cells of the liver. Non-colored HCT-116 human colon cancer cells were injected in the spleen of GFP nude mice which led to the formation of experimental liver metastasis. TME formation resulting from the liver metastasis was observed using the Olympus OV100 small animal fluorescence imaging system. HCT-116 cells formed tumor colonies in the liver 28 days after cell transplantation to the spleen. GFP-expressing host cells were recruited by the metastatic tumors as visualized by fluorescence imaging. A desmin positive area increased around and within the liver metastasis over time, suggesting cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) were recruited by the liver metastasis which have a role in tumor progression. The color-coded model of the TME enables its formation to be visualized at the cellular level in vivo, in real-time. This imaging model of the TME should lead to new visual targets in the TME.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Spleen / pathology


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins