The role of the tumor microenvironment in tumor cell intravasation and dissemination

Eur J Cell Biol. 2020 Aug;99(6):151098. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcb.2020.151098. Epub 2020 Jul 2.


Metastasis, a process that requires tumor cell dissemination followed by tumor growth, is the primary cause of death in cancer patients. An essential step of tumor cell dissemination is intravasation, a process by which tumor cells cross the blood vessel endothelium and disseminate to distant sites. Studying this process is of utmost importance given that intravasation in the primary tumor, as well as the secondary and tertiary metastases, is the key step in the systemic spread of tumor cells, and that this process continues even after removal of the primary tumor. High-resolution intravital imaging of the tumor microenvironment of breast carcinoma has revealed that tumor cell intravasation exclusively occurs at doorways, termed "Tumor MicroEnvironment of Metastasis" (TMEM), composed of three different cell types: a Tie2high/VEGFhigh perivascular macrophage, a Mena overexpressing tumor cell, and an endothelial cell, all in direct contact. In this review article, we discuss the interactions between these cell types, the subsequent signaling events which lead to tumor cell intravasation, and the role of invadopodia in supporting tumor cell invasion and dissemination. We end our review by discussing how the knowledge acquired from the use of intravital imaging is now leading to new clinical trials targeting tumor cell dissemination and preventing metastatic progression.

Keywords: Dissemination; Intravasation; Intravital imaging; Invadopodia; MenaINV; Metastasis; TMEM doorways; Tumor microenvironment.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Tumor Microenvironment / physiology*