A Zebrafish Model of Metastatic Colonization Pinpoints Cellular Mechanisms of Circulating Tumor Cell Extravasation

Front Oncol. 2021 Sep 23:11:641187. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.641187. eCollection 2021.


Metastasis is a multistep process in which cells must detach, migrate/invade local structures, intravasate, circulate, extravasate, and colonize. A full understanding of the complexity of this process has been limited by the lack of ability to study these steps in isolation with detailed molecular analyses. Leveraging a comparative oncology approach, we injected canine osteosarcoma cells into the circulation of transgenic zebrafish with fluorescent blood vessels in a biologically dynamic metastasis extravasation model. Circulating tumor cell clusters that successfully extravasated the vasculature as multicellular units were isolated under intravital imaging (n = 6). These extravasation-positive tumor cell clusters sublines were then molecularly profiled by RNA-Seq. Using a systems-level analysis, we pinpointed the downregulation of KRAS signaling, immune pathways, and extracellular matrix (ECM) organization as enriched in extravasated cells (p < 0.05). Within the extracellular matrix remodeling pathway, we identified versican (VCAN) as consistently upregulated and central to the ECM gene regulatory network (p < 0.05). Versican expression is prognostic for a poorer metastasis-free and overall survival in patients with osteosarcoma. Together, our results provide a novel experimental framework to study discrete steps in the metastatic process. Using this system, we identify the versican/ECM network dysregulation as a potential contributor to osteosarcoma circulating tumor cell metastasis.

Keywords: angiopellosis; cancer exodus hypothesis; circulating tumor cell cluster; metastasis; osteosarcoma; tumor cell extravasation.