Tumor progression to metastasis is not cancer cell autonomous, but rather involves the interplay of multiple cell types within the tumor microenvironment. Here we identify asporin (ASPN) as a novel, secreted mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC) factor in the tumor microenvironment that regulates metastatic development. MSCs expressed high levels of ASPN, which decreased following lineage differentiation. ASPN loss impaired MSC self-renewal and promoted terminal cell differentiation. Mechanistically, secreted ASPN bound to BMP-4 and restricted BMP-4-induced MSC differentiation prior to lineage commitment. ASPN expression was distinctly conserved between MSC and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF). ASPN expression in the tumor microenvironment broadly impacted multiple cell types. Prostate tumor allografts in ASPN-null mice had a reduced number of tumor-associated MSCs, fewer cancer stem cells, decreased tumor vasculature, and an increased percentage of infiltrating CD8+ T cells. ASPN-null mice also demonstrated a significant reduction in lung metastases compared with wild-type mice. These data establish a role for ASPN as a critical MSC factor that extensively affects the tumor microenvironment and induces metastatic progression. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings show that asporin regulates key properties of mesenchymal stromal cells, including self-renewal and multipotency, and asporin expression by reactive stromal cells alters the tumor microenvironment and promotes metastatic progression.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.