Proliferation is a fundamental trait of cancer cells, but its properties and spatial organization in tumours are poorly characterized. Here we use highly multiplexed tissue imaging to perform single-cell quantification of cell cycle regulators and then develop robust, multivariate, proliferation metrics. Across diverse cancers, proliferative architecture is organized at two spatial scales: large domains, and smaller niches enriched for specific immune lineages. Some tumour cells express cell cycle regulators in the (canonical) patterns expected of freely growing cells, a phenomenon we refer to as 'cell cycle coherence'. By contrast, the cell cycles of other tumour cell populations are skewed towards specific phases or exhibit non-canonical (incoherent) marker combinations. Coherence varies across space, with changes in oncogene activity and therapeutic intervention, and is associated with aggressive tumour behaviour. Thus, multivariate measures from high-plex tissue images capture clinically significant features of cancer proliferation, a fundamental step in enabling more precise use of anti-cancer therapies.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.