The site of breast cancer metastases dictates their clonal composition and reversible transcriptomic profile

Sci Adv. 2021 Jul 7;7(28):eabf4408. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abf4408. Print 2021 Jul.


Intratumoral heterogeneity is a driver of breast cancer progression, but the nature of the clonal interactive network involved in this process remains unclear. Here, we optimized the use of optical barcoding to visualize and characterize 31 cancer subclones in vivo. By mapping the clonal composition of thousands of metastases in two clinically relevant sites, the lungs and liver, we found that metastases were highly polyclonal in lungs but not in the liver. Furthermore, the transcriptome of the subclones varied according to their metastatic niche. We also identified a reversible niche-driven signature that was conserved in lung and liver metastases collected during patient autopsies. Among this signature, we found that the tumor necrosis factor-α pathway was up-regulated in lung compared to liver metastases, and inhibition of this pathway affected metastasis diversity. These results highlight that the cellular and molecular heterogeneity observed in metastases is largely dictated by the tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics