Microenvironment components and spatially resolved single-cell transcriptome atlas of breast cancer metastatic axillary lymph nodes

Acta Biochim Biophys Sin (Shanghai). 2022 Sep 25. doi: 10.3724/abbs.2022131. Online ahead of print.


As an indicator of clinical prognosis, lymph node metastasis of breast cancer has drawn great attention. Many reports have revealed the characteristics of metastatic breast cancer cells, however, the effect of breast cancer cells on the microenvironment components of lymph nodes and spatial transcriptome atlas remains unclear. In this study, by integrating single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and spatial transcriptomics, we investigate the transcriptional profiling of six surgically excised lymph node samples and the spatial organization of one positive lymph node. We identify the existence of osteoclast-like giant cells (OGC) which have high expressions of CD68 and CD163, the biomarkers of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). Through a spatially resolved transcriptomic method, we find that OGCs are scattered among metastatic breast cancer cells. In the lymph node microenvironment with breast cancer cell infiltration, TAMs are enriched in protumoral pathways including NF-κB signaling pathways and NOD-like receptor signaling pathways. Further subclustering demonstrates the potential differentiation trajectory in which macrophages develop from a state of active chemokine production to a state of active lymphocyte activation. This study is the first to integrate scRNA-seq and spatial transcriptomics in the tumor microenvironment of axillary lymph nodes, offering a systematic approach to delve into breast cancer lymph node metastasis.

Keywords: breast cancer; metastasis; microenvironment; single-cell RNA sequencing; spatial transcriptomics.