Intratumoral acidosis fosters cancer-induced bone pain through the activation of the mesenchymal tumor-associated stroma in bone metastasis from breast carcinoma

Oncotarget. 2017 Apr 13;8(33):54478-54496. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.17091. eCollection 2017 Aug 15.


Cancer-induced bone pain (CIBP) is common in patients with bone metastases (BM), significantly impairing quality of life. The current treatments for CIBP are limited since they are often ineffective. Local acidosis derived from glycolytic carcinoma and tumor-induced osteolysis is only barely explored cause of pain. We found that breast carcinoma cells that prefer bone as a metastatic site have very high extracellular proton efflux and expression of pumps/ion transporters associated with acid-base balance (MCT4, CA9, and V-ATPase). Further, the impairment of intratumoral acidification via V-ATPase targeting in xenografts with BM significantly reduced CIBP, as measured by incapacitance test. We hypothesize that in addition to the direct acid-induced stimulation of nociceptors in the bone, a novel mechanism mediated by the acid-induced and tumor-associated mesenchymal stroma might ultimately lead to nociceptor sensitization and hyperalgesia. Consistent with this, short-term exposure of cancer-associated fibroblasts, mesenchymal stem cells, and osteoblasts to pH 6.8 promotes the expression of inflammatory and nociceptive mediators (NGF, BDNF, IL6, IL8, IL1b and CCL5). This is also consistent with a significant correlation between breakthrough pain, measured by pain questionnaire, and combined high serum levels of BDNF and IL6 in patients with BM, and also by immunofluorescence staining showing IL8 expression that was more in mesenchymal stromal cells rather than in tumors cells, and close to LAMP-2 positive acidifying carcinoma cells in BM tissue sections. In summary, intratumoral acidification in BM might promote CIBP also by activating the tumor-associated stroma, offering a new target for palliative treatments in advanced cancer.

Keywords: cancer-induced bone pain; hyperalgesia; intratumoral acidosis; tumor-associated stroma.