Background: Tumors develop by progression through a series of stages. Every cell of the tumor microenvironment is constantly changing in the flow of the cancer progression. It has become clear in recent years that stroma is essential for tumor maintenance and growth. Here, we aimed to give a chronological order of gene expression changes given in the dynamical framework of microinvasive breast cancer microenvironment.
Methods: RNA-seq was performed on seven microinvasive breast cancers. For each of them we microdissected seven different portions of the tumor, four related to the breast epithelium and three to the stroma. Breast epithelium was chronologically subdivided in normal breast epithelium (NBE), carcinoma in situ (CIS), emerging invasive fingers (EIF) and invasive breast cancer (IBC). For each of the breast epithelium subdivisions we collected the adjacent stroma (S): S-NBE, S-EIF and S-IBC.
Results: The overall differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in all the compartments were analysed and evaluated to understand the pathways involved in tumor progression. Then we analysed the DEGs of the epithelial and stromal portions in comparison with the normal portions. We observed that the stromal cells are necessary for the development and the maintenance of the tumor, especially in tumor progression. Moreover the most important genes involved in the main metabolic pathways were analysed and the communications within the different cell compartments were highlighted.
Conclusions: As a future perspective, a deeply study of the identified key genes, particularly in the stromal cells, will be crucial to develop an anticancer therapy that is undergoing a conversion from a cancer cell-centric strategy to a stroma-centric strategy, more genomically stable.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Cancer microenvironment; Cancer progression; Laser capture microdissection; RNA-seq.