Unravelling tumour heterogeneity by single-cell profiling of circulating tumour cells

Nat Rev Cancer. 2019 Oct;19(10):553-567. doi: 10.1038/s41568-019-0180-2. Epub 2019 Aug 27.


Single-cell technologies have contributed to unravelling tumour heterogeneity, now considered a hallmark of cancer and one of the main causes of tumour resistance to cancer therapies. Liquid biopsy (LB), defined as the detection and analysis of cells or cell products released by tumours into the blood, offers an appealing minimally invasive approach that allows the characterization and monitoring of tumour heterogeneity in individual patients. Here, we will review and discuss how circulating tumour cell (CTC) analysis at single-cell resolution provides unique insights into tumour heterogeneity that are not revealed by analysis of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) derived from LBs. The molecular analysis of CTCs provides complementary information to that of genomic aberrations determined using ctDNA to fully describe many different cellular components (for example, DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolites) that can influence tumour heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Biopsy / methods
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Female
  • Genomics*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / blood*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Precision Medicine / methods
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Biomarkers, Tumor