The tumour stroma regulates nearly all stages of carcinogenesis. Stromal heterogeneity in human triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) remains poorly understood, limiting the development of stromal-targeted therapies. Single-cell RNA sequencing of five TNBCs revealed two cancer-associated fibroblast (CAF) and two perivascular-like (PVL) subpopulations. CAFs clustered into two states: the first with features of myofibroblasts and the second characterised by high expression of growth factors and immunomodulatory molecules. PVL cells clustered into two states consistent with a differentiated and immature phenotype. We showed that these stromal states have distinct morphologies, spatial relationships and functional properties in regulating the extracellular matrix. Using cell signalling predictions, we provide evidence that stromal-immune crosstalk acts via a diverse array of immunoregulatory molecules. Importantly, the investigation of gene signatures from inflammatory-CAFs and differentiated-PVL cells in independent TNBC patient cohorts revealed strong associations with cytotoxic T-cell dysfunction and exclusion, respectively. Such insights present promising candidates to further investigate for new therapeutic strategies in the treatment of TNBCs.
Keywords: cancer-associated fibroblasts; single-cell RNA sequencing; stromal heterogeneity; triple-negative breast cancer; tumour microenvironment.
© 2020 The Authors.