Single-cell analysis of immune and stroma cell remodeling in clear cell renal cell carcinoma primary tumors and bone metastatic lesions

Genome Med. 2024 Jan 29;16(1):1. doi: 10.1186/s13073-023-01272-6.


Background: Despite therapeutic advances, once a cancer has metastasized to the bone, it represents a highly morbid and lethal disease. One third of patients with advanced clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) present with bone metastasis at the time of diagnosis. However, the bone metastatic niche in humans, including the immune and stromal microenvironments, has not been well-defined, hindering progress towards identification of therapeutic targets.

Methods: We collected fresh patient samples and performed single-cell transcriptomic profiling of solid metastatic tissue (Bone Met), liquid bone marrow at the vertebral level of spinal cord compression (Involved), and liquid bone marrow from a different vertebral body distant from the tumor site but within the surgical field (Distal), as well as bone marrow from patients undergoing hip replacement surgery (Benign). In addition, we incorporated single-cell data from primary ccRCC tumors (ccRCC Primary) for comparative analysis.

Results: The bone marrow of metastatic patients is immune-suppressive, featuring increased, exhausted CD8 + cytotoxic T cells, T regulatory cells, and tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) with distinct transcriptional states in metastatic lesions. Bone marrow stroma from tumor samples demonstrated a tumor-associated mesenchymal stromal cell population (TA-MSC) that appears to be supportive of epithelial-to mesenchymal transition (EMT), bone remodeling, and a cancer-associated fibroblast (CAFs) phenotype. This stromal subset is associated with poor progression-free and overall survival and also markedly upregulates bone remodeling through the dysregulation of RANK/RANKL/OPG signaling activity in bone cells, ultimately leading to bone resorption.

Conclusions: These results provide a comprehensive analysis of the bone marrow niche in the setting of human metastatic cancer and highlight potential therapeutic targets for both cell populations and communication channels.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Stromal Cells / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment