Characterization of the pleural microenvironment niche and cancer transition using single-cell RNA sequencing in EGFR-mutated lung cancer

Theranostics. 2023 Aug 6;13(13):4412-4429. doi: 10.7150/thno.85084. eCollection 2023.


Background: Lung cancer is associated with a high mortality rate and often complicated with malignant pleural effusion (MPE), which has a very poor clinical outcome with a short life expectancy. However, our understanding of cell-specific mechanisms underlying the pathobiology of pleural metastasis remains incomplete. Methods: We analyzed single-cell transcriptomes of cells in pleural effusion collected from patients with lung cancer and congestive heart failure (as a control), respectively. Soluble and complement factors were measured using a multiplex cytokine bead assay. The role of ferroptosis was evaluated by GPX4 small interfering RNA (siRNA) transfection and overexpression. Results: We found that the mesothelial-mesenchymal transition (MesoMT) of the pleural mesothelial cells contributed to pleural metastasis, which was validated by lung cancer/mesothelial cell co-culture experiments. The ferroptosis resistance that protected cancer from death which was secondary to extracellular matrix detachment was critical for pleural metastasis. We found a universal presence of immune-suppressive lipid-associated tumor-associated macrophages (LA-TAMs) with complement cascade alteration in the MPE of the lung cancer patients. Specifically, upregulated complement factors were also found in the MPE, and C5 was associated with poor overall survival in the lung cancer patients with epidermal growth factor receptor mutation. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) exhibited a dysfunctional phenotype and pro-tumorigenic feature in the primary cancer. High expression of the gene set extracted from pDCs was associated with a poor prognosis in the lung cancer patients. Receptor-ligand interaction analysis revealed that the pleural metastatic niche was aggravated by cross-talk between mesothelial cells-cancer cells/immune cells via TNC and ICAM1. Conclusions: Taken together, our results highlight cell-specific mechanisms involved in the pathobiological development of pleural metastasis in lung cancer. These results provide a large-scale and high-dimensional characterization of the pleural microenvironment and offer a useful resource for the future development of therapeutic drugs in lung cancer.

Keywords: Pleural metastasis; complement factor; ferroptosis; lung cancer; mesothelial cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogenesis
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Pleural Effusion*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • ErbB Receptors
  • EGFR protein, human