The persistence of circulating tumor cells (CTC) in breast cancer patients might be associated with stem cell like tumor cells which have been suggested to be the active source of metastatic spread in primary tumors. Furthermore, these cells also may undergo phenotypic changes, known as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which allows them to travel to the site of metastasis formation without getting affected by conventional treatment. Here we evaluated 226 blood samples of 39 metastatic breast cancer patients during a follow-up of palliative chemo-, antibody – or hormonal therapy for the expression of the stem cell marker ALDH1 and markers for EMT and correlated these findings with the presence of CTC and response to therapy.
2 × 5 ml blood was analyzed for CTC with the AdnaTest BreastCancer (AdnaGen AG) for the detection of EpCAM, MUC-1 and HER2 transcripts. The recovered c-DNA was additionally multiplex tested for three EMT markers [Twist1, Akt2, PI3Kα] and separately for the tumor stem-cell markers ALDH1. The identification of EMT markers was considered positive if at least one marker was detected in the sample.
97% of 30 healthy donor samples investigated were negative for EMT and 95% for ALDH1 transcripts. CTC were detected in 69/226 (31%) cancer samples. In the CTC (+) group, 62% were positive for at least one of the EMT markers and 69% for ALDH1, respectively. In the CTC (-) group the percentages were 7% and 14%, respectively. In non-responders, EMT and ALDH1 expression was found in 62% and 44% of patients, in responders the rates were 10% and 5%, respectively.
Our data indicate that a major proportion of CTC of metastatic breast cancer patients shows EMT and tumor stem cell characteristics. Further studies are needed to prove whether these markers might serve as an indicator for therapy resistant tumor cell populations and, therefore, an inferior prognosis.
The enumeration of circulating tumour cells (CTC) has prognostic significance in patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and monitoring of CTC levels over time has considerable potential to guide treatment decisions. However, little is known on CTC kinetics in the human bloodstream.
In this study, we compared the number of CTC in both 7.5 ml central venous blood (CVB) and 7.5 ml peripheral venous blood (PVB) from 30 patients with MBC starting with a new line of chemotherapy.
The number of CTC was found to be significantly higher in CVB (median: 43.5; range: 0–4036) than in PVB (median: 33; range: 0–4013) (P=0.001). When analysing samples pairwise, CTC counts were found to be significantly higher in CVB than in PVB in 12 out of 26 patients with detectable CTC. In contrast, only 2 out of 26 patients had higher CTC counts in PVB as compared with CVB, whereas in 12 remaining patients no significant difference was seen. The pattern of CTC distribution was independent of the sites of metastatic involvement.
A substantial difference in the number of CTC was observed between CVB and PVB of patients with MBC. Registration of the site of blood collection is warranted in studies evaluating the role of CTC assessment in these patients.
circulating tumour cells; metastatic breast cancer; CellSearch system; peripheral venous blood; central venous blood
The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTC) in breast cancer might be associated with stem cell-like tumor cells which have been suggested to be the active source of metastatic spread in primary tumors. Furthermore, to be able to disseminate and metastasize, CTC must be able to perform epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). We studied the expression of three EMT markers and the stem cell marker ALDH1 in CTC from 502 primary breast cancer patients. Data were correlated with the presence of disseminated tumor cells (DTC) in the bone marrow (BM) and with clinicopathological data of the patients.
A total of 2 × 5 ml of blood was analyzed for CTC with the AdnaTest BreastCancer (AdnaGen AG) for the detection of EpCAM, MUC-1, HER2 and beta-Actin transcripts. The recovered c-DNA was additionally multiplex tested for three EMT markers [TWIST1, Akt2, phosphoinositide kinase-3 (PI3Kα)] and separately for the tumor stem cell marker ALDH1. The identification of EMT markers was considered positive if at least one marker was detected in the sample. Two BM aspirates from all patients were analyzed for DTC by immunocytochemistry using the pan-cytokeratin antibody A45-B/B3.
Ninety-seven percent of 30 healthy donor samples investigated were negative for EMT and 95% for ALDH1 transcripts, respectively. CTC were detected in 97/502 (19%) patients. At least one of the EMT markers was expressed in 29% and ALDH1 was present in 14% of the samples, respectively. Interestingly, 5% of the ALDH1-positive and 18% of the EMT-positive patients were CTC-negative based on the cut-off level determined for CTC-positivity applying the AdnaTest BreastCancer. DTC in the BM were detected in 107/502 (21%) patients and no correlation was found between BM status and CTC positivity (P = 0.41). The presence of CTC, EMT and ALDH1 expression was not correlated to any of the prognostic clinical markers.
Our data indicate that (1) a subset of primary breast cancer patients shows EMT and stem cell characteristics and (2) the currently used detection methods for CTC are not efficient to identify a subtype of CTC which underwent EMT. (3) The clinical relevance on prognosis and therapy response has to be further evaluated in a prospective trial.
During cancer progression malignant cells undergo epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMTs) and mesenchymal-epithelial transitions (METs) as part of a broad invasion and metastasis program. We previously observed MET events among lung metastases in a preclinical model of prostate adenocarcinoma that suggested a relationship between epithelial plasticity and metastatic spread. We thus sought to translate these findings into clinical evidence by examining the existence of EMT in circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from patients with progressive metastatic solid tumors, with a focus on men with castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) and women with metastatic breast cancer (BC). We show that the majority (>80%) of these CTCs in patients with metastatic CRPC co-express epithelial proteins such as EpCAM, CK, and E-cadherin, mesenchymal proteins, including vimentin, N-cadherin, and O-cadherin, and the stem cell marker CD133. Equally, we find that over 75% of CTCs from women with metastatic BC co-express cytokeratin, vimentin, and N-cadherin. The existence and high frequency of these CTCs co-expressing epithelial, mesenchymal, and stem-cell markers in patients with progressive metastases has important implications for the application and interpretation of approved methods to detect CTCs.
metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC); epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT); mesenchymal epithelial transition (MET); circulating tumor cells (CTCs); metastatic breast cancer; N-Cadherin; CD133; O-Cadherin; EpCAM
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) represent an independent predictor of outcome in patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). We assessed the prognostic impact of CTCs according to different first-line systemic treatments, and explored their potential predictive value in MBC patients.
We retrospectively evaluated 235 newly diagnosed MBC patients, treated at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. All patients had a baseline CTC assessment performed with CellSearch®. Progression-free survival and overall survival were compared with the log-rank test between groups, according to CTC count (< 5 vs. ≥ 5) and type of systemic therapy. We further explored the predictive value of baseline CTCs in patients receiving different treatments.
At a median follow-up of 18 months, the CTC count was confirmed to be a robust prognostic marker in the overall population (median progression-free survival 12.0 and 7.0 months for patients with CTC < 5 and ≥ 5, respectively; P < 0.001). Conversely, in patients with human epidermal growth factor receptor-2-overexpressed/amplified tumors receiving trastuzumab or lapatinib, the baseline CTC count was not prognostic (median progression-free survival 14.5 months for patients with CTC < 5 and 16.1 months for those with CTC ≥ 5; P = 0.947). Furthermore, in patients with human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 normal tumors, a baseline CTC count ≥ 5 identified subjects who derived benefit from more aggressive treatments, including combination chemotherapy and chemotherapy plus bevacizumab.
This analysis suggests that the prognostic information provided by CTC count may be useful in patient stratifications and therapeutic selection, particularly in the group with positive CTCs, in which various therapeutic choices may procure differential palliative benefit.
To investigate the clinical relevance of CK-19mRNA-positive circulating tumour cells (CTCs) detected before the initiation of front-line treatment in patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
The presence of CTCs was detected in 298 patients with MBC using a real-time PCR (RT-PCR assay. In 44 patients, the detection of CTCs was evaluated by both the CellSearch and the RT-PCR assay. Interaction with known prognostic factors and association of CTCs with clinical outcome were investigated.
There was a strong correlation between the detection of CTCs by both assays. CK-19mRNA-positive CTCs were detected in 201 (67%) patients and their detection was independent of various patients' clinico-pathological characteristics. The median progression-free survival (PFS; 9.2 vs 11.9 months (mo), P=0.003) and the overall survival (OS; 29.7 vs 38.9 mo, P=0.016) were significantly shorter in patients with detectable CK-19mRNA-positive CTCs compared with patients without detectable CTCs. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that oestrogen receptor status, performance status and detection of CTCs were emerged as independent prognostic factors associated with decreased PFS and OS.
The detection of CK-19mRNA-positive CTCs in patients with MBC before front-line therapy could define a subgroup of patients with dismal clinical outcome.
breast cancer; CK-19mRNA; tumour cells
Circulating tumour cells (CTCs) have shown prognostic relevance in metastatic breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer. For further development of CTCs as a biomarker, we compared the performance of different protocols for CTC detection in murine breast cancer xenograft models (MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468 and KPL-4). Blood samples were taken from tumour bearing animals (20 to 200 mm2) and analysed for CTCs using 1. an epithelial marker based enrichment method (AdnaTest), 2. an antibody independent technique, targeting human gene transcripts (qualitative PCR), and 3. an antibody-independent approach, targeting human DNA-sequences (quantitative PCR). Further, gene expression changes associated with epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) were determined with an EMT-specific PCR assay.
We used the commercially available Adna Test, RT-PCR on human housekeeping genes and a PCR on AluJ sequences to detect CTCs in xenografts models. Phenotypic changes in CTCs were tested with the commercially available “Human Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition RT-Profiler PCR Array”.
Although the AdnaTest detects as few as 1 tumour cell in 1 ml of mouse blood spiking experiments, no CTCs were detectable with this approach in vivo despite visible metastasis formation. The presence of CTCs could, however, be demonstrated by PCR targeting human transcripts or DNA-sequences - without epithelial pre-enrichment. The failure of CTC detection by the AdnaTest resulted from downregulation of EpCAM, whereas mesenchymal markers like Twist and EGFR were upregulated on CTCs. Such a change in the expression profile during metastatic spread of tumour cells has already been reported and was linked to a biological program termed epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).
The use of EpCAM-based enrichment techniques leads to the failure to detect CTC populations that have undergone EMT. Our findings may explain clinical results where low CTC numbers have been reported even in patients with late metastatic cancers. These results are a starting point for the identification of new markers for detection or capture of CTCs, including the mesenchymal-like subpopulations.
Circulating tumour cells; Breast cancer; Xenograft; Metastasis; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is considered an essential process in the metastatic cascade. EMT is characterised by upregulation of vimentin, Twist, Snail, Slug and Sip1 among others. Metastasis is also associated with the presence of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) and disseminated tumour cells in the blood and bone marrow, respectively, of breast cancer patients, but the expression of EMT markers in these cells has not been reported so far.
The expression of Twist and vimentin in CTCs of 25 metastatic and 25 early breast cancer patients was investigated by using double-immunofluorescence experiments in isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cell cytospins using anti-cytokeratin (anti-CK) anti-mouse (A45-B/B3) and anti-Twist or anti-vimentin anti-rabbit antibodies.
Among early breast cancer patients, vimentin-and Twist-expressing CK+ CTCs were identified in 77% and 73% of the patients, respectively, and in 100% of the patients with metastatic breast cancer for both markers (P = 0.004 and P = 0.037, respectively). Among patients with early disease, 56% and 53% of the CK+ CTCs were double-stained with vimentin and Twist, and the corresponding values for metastatic patients were 74% and 97%, respectively (P = 0.005 and P = 0.0001, respectively). The median expression of CK+vimentin+ and CK+Twist+ cells per patient in metastatic patients was 98% and 100%, and in an adjuvant chemotherapy setting the corresponding numbers were 56% and 40.6%, respectively. Triple-staining experiments revealed that all CK+Twist+ or CK+vimentin+ cells were also CD45-, confirming their epithelial origin. Immunomagnetic separation of CTCs and triple-immunofluorescence with anti-CK/anti-Twist/anti-vimentin antibodies demonstrated that both mesenchymal markers could be coexpressed in the same CK+ cell, since 64% of the total identified CTCs were triple-stained. There was a significant correlation (P = 0.005) between the number of CTCs expressing Twist and vimentin within the same setting.
CTCs expressing Twist and vimentin, suggestive of EMT, are identified in patients with breast cancer. The high incidence of these cells in patients with metastatic disease compared to early stage breast cancer strongly supports the notion that EMT is involved in the metastatic potential of CTCs.
Circulating tumour cells (CTC) have a crucial role in metastasis formation and can consistently provide information on patient prognosis. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is considered as an essential process in the metastatic cascade, but there is currently very few data demonstrating directly the existence of the EMT process in CTCs.
CTCs were enriched by blood filtration using ISET (isolation by size of epithelial tumour cells), triply labelled with fluorescent anti-vimentin, anti-pan-keratin antibodies and SYTOX orange nuclear dye, and examined by confocal microscopy in six patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In parallel, CTCs were morphocytologically identified by an experienced cytopathologist.
Isolated or clusters of dual CTCs strongly co-expressing vimentin and keratin were evidenced in all patients (range 5–88/5 ml). CTCs expressing only vimentin were detected in three patients, but were less frequent (range 3–15/5 ml). No CTC expressing only keratin was detected.
We showed for the first time the existence of hybrid CTCs with an epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype in patients with NSCLC. Their characterisation should provide further insight on the significance of EMT in CTCs and on the mechanism of metastasis in patients with NSCLC.
circulating tumour cells; metastasis; metastatic non-small cell lung cancer; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; ISET
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) were discovered nearly 150 years ago but have only recently been recognized as a feature of most solid tumors due to their extremely low concentration in the peripheral circulation. Several technologies have been developed to isolate and analyze CTCs, which can now be routinely accessed for clinical information. The most mature of these (the CELLSEARCH system) uses immunomagnetic selection of epithelial cell adhesion molecule to isolate CTCs for analysis. Studies using this system have demonstrated that categorization of patients into high and low CTC groups using a validated decision point is prognostic in patients with metastatic breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer. Initial attempts to use CTC counts to guide therapeutic decisions appeared to yield positive results and key concepts in clinical application of CTC information, including the CTC cutoff, predictive value in disease subtypes, and comparison to current evaluation methods, have been demonstrated. Clinical studies of the impact of CTC counts in routine clinical practice are ongoing; however, recent published evidence on the clinical use of CTCs in metastatic breast cancer continues to support these concepts, and experience in the community oncology setting also suggests that CTC enumeration can be useful for therapy management.
Many research groups reported on the relation between circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in peripheral blood and worse prognosis for metastatic cancer patients. These results are based on CTCs counting and did not take into account molecular characteristics of cells. To establish CTCs as a reliable and accurate biological marker, new technologies must be focused on CTC subpopulations: dedifferentiated circulating tumor cells (ddCTCs) arising from epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT). To select and detect them, different methods have been proposed but none has still reached the goal. Technical progress and translational research are expected to establish CTCs as a real marker. Thus CTC evaluation profiling for each patient will lead to personalize followup and therapy.
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of adherent epithelial cells to a migratory mesenchymal state has been implicated in tumor metastasis in preclinical models. To investigate its role in human cancer, we characterized EMT in circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from breast cancer patients. Rare primary tumor cells simultaneously expressed mesenchymal and epithelial markers, but mesenchymal cells were highly enriched in CTCs. Serial CTC monitoring in 11 patients suggested an association of mesenchymal CTCs with disease progression. In an index patient, reversible shifts between these cell fates accompanied each cycle of response to therapy and disease progression. Mesenchymal CTCs occurred as both single cells and multicellular clusters, expressing known EMT regulators, including transforming growth factor (TGF)–β pathway components and the FOXC1 transcription factor. These data support a role for EMT in the blood-borne dissemination of human breast cancer.
Metastasis is a complex, multistep process that begins with the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are believed to have undergone EMT and thus lack or express low levels of epithelial markers commonly used for enrichment and/or detection of such cells. However, most current CTC detection methods only target EpCAM and/or cytokeratin to enrich epithelial CTCs, resulting in failure to recognize other, perhaps more important, CTC phenotypes that lack expression of these markers. Here, we describe a population of complex aneuploid CTCs that do not express cytokeratin or CD45 antigen in patients with breast, ovarian, or colorectal cancers. These cells were not observed in healthy subjects. We show that the primary epithelial tumors were characterized by similar complex aneuploidy, indicating conversion to an EMT phenotype in the captured cells. Collectively, our study provides a new method for highly efficient capture of previously unrecognized populations of CTCs.
Current assays for CTC capture likely miss populations of cells that have undergone EMT. Capture and study of CTCs that have undergone EMT would allow a better understanding of the mechanisms driving metastasis.
Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is characterized by a combination of tumor growth, proliferation and metastatic progression and is typically managed with palliative intent. The benefit of standard systemic therapies is relatively limited and the disease is considered incurable suggesting the need to investigate the biological drivers of the various phases of the metastatic process in order to improve the selection of molecularly driven therapies. The detection, enumeration and molecular analysis of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) provide an intriguing opportunity to advance this knowledge. CTCs enumerated by the Food and Drugs Administration-cleared CellSearch® system are an independent prognostic factor of progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) in MBC patients. Several published papers demonstrated the poor prognosis for MBC patients that presented basal CTC count ≥5 in 7.5 mL of blood. Therefore, the enumeration of CTCs during treatment for MBC provides a tool with the ability to predict progression of disease earlier than standard timing of anatomical assessment using conventional radiological tests. During the metastatic process cancer cells exhibit morphological and phenotypic plasticity undergoing epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). This important phenomenon is associated with down regulation of epithelial marker (e.g., EpCAM) with potential limitations in the applicability of current CTCs enrichment methods. Such observations translated in a number of investigations aimed at improving our capabilities to enumerate and perform molecular characterization of CTCs. Theoretically, the phenotypic analysis of CTCs can represent a “liquid” biopsy of breast tumor that is able to identify a new potential target against the metastatic disease and advanced the development and monitoring of personalized therapies.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs); metastatic breast cancer (MBC); epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT); cancer stem cells
Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a crucial event likely involved in dissemination of epithelial cancer cells. This process enables them to acquire migratory/invasive properties, contributing to tumor and metastatic spread. To know if this event is an early one in breast cancer, we developed a clinical trial. The aim of this protocol was to detect circulating tumor cells endowed with mesenchymal and/or stemness characteristics, at the time of initial diagnosis. Breast cancer patients (n = 61), without visceral or bone metastasis were enrolled and analysis of these dedifferentiated circulating tumor cells (ddCTC) was realized.
AdnaGen method was used for enrichment cell selection. Then, ddCTC were characterized by RT-PCR study of the following genes: PI3Kα, Akt-2, Twist1 (EMT markers) and ALDH1, Bmi1 and CD44 (stemness indicators).
Among the studied primary breast cancer cohort, presence of ddCTC was detected in 39% of cases. This positivity is independant from tumor clinicopathological factors apart from the lymph node status.
Our data uniquely demonstrated that in vivo EMT occurs in the primary tumors and is associated with an enhanced ability of tumor cells to intravasate in the early phase of cancer disease. These results suggest that analysis of circulating tumor cells focused on cells showing mesenchymal or stemness characteristics might facilitate assessment of new drugs in clinical trials.
The increasing number of treatment options for patients with metastatic carcinomas has created a concomitant need for new methods to monitor their use. Ideally, these modalities would be noninvasive, be independent of treatment, and provide quantitative real-time analysis of tumor activity in a variety of carcinomas. Assessment of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) shed into the blood during metastasis may satisfy this need. We developed the CellSearch System to enumerate CTC from 7.5 mL of venous blood. In this review we compare the outcomes from three prospective multicenter studies investigating the use of CTC to monitor patients undergoing treatment for metastatic breast (MBC), colorectal (MCRC), or prostate cancer (MPC) and review the CTC definition used in these studies. Evaluation of CTC at anytime during the course of disease allows assessment of patient prognosis and is predictive of overall survival.
Circulating tumor cells (CTC) are emerging as a powerful prognostic and predictive biomarker in several types of cancer, including breast, colon, and prostate. Studies of CTC in metastasis and further development of CTC as a biomarker in cancer have been limited by the inability to repetitively monitor CTC in mouse models of cancer. We have validated a method to enumerate CTC in blood samples obtained from living mice using a modified version of an in vitro diagnostic system for quantifying CTC in patients. Different routes of blood collection were tested to identify a method to reproducibly recover CTC from tumor-bearing mice without interference from contaminating normal murine epithelial cells. CTC are present in blood samples from mice bearing orthotopic xenografts of several different breast cancer cell lines and primary breast cancer cells from patient biopsies. We also show that this technology can be used for serial monitoring of CTC in mouse xenograft models of human breast cancer. These results establish a new method for studying CTC in mouse models of epithelial cancer, providing the foundation for studies of molecular regulation of CTC in cancer and CTC as biomarker for therapeutic efficacy.
In this paper, we examine the role of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in breast cancer. CTCs are tumor cells present in the peripheral blood. They are found in many different carcinomas but are not present in patients with benign disease. Recent advances in theories regarding metastasis support the role of early release of tumor cells in the neoplastic process. Furthermore, it has been found that phenotypic variation exists between the primary tumor and CTCs. Of particular interest is the incongruency found between primary tumor and CTC HER2 status in both metastatic and early breast cancer. Overall, CTCs have been shown to be a poor prognostic marker in metastatic breast cancer. CTCs in early breast cancer are not as well studied, however, several studies suggest that the presence of CTCs in early breast cancer may also suggest a poorer prognosis. Studies are currently underway looking at the use of CTC level monitoring in order to guide changes in therapy.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are detectable in peripheral blood of metastatic breast cancer patients (MBC). In this paper we evaluate a new CTC separation method based on a combination of anti-EpCAM- and anti-cytokeratin magnetic cell separation with the aim to improve CTC detection with low target antigen densities.
Blood samples of healthy donors spiked with breast cancer cell line HCC1937 were used to determine accuracy and precision of the method. 10 healthy subjects were examined to evaluate specificity. CTC counts in 59 patients with MBC were measured to evaluate the prognostic value on overall survival.
Regression analysis of numbers of recovered vs. spiked HCC1937 cells yielded a coefficient of determination of R2 = 0.957. The average percentage of cell recovery was 84%. The average within-run coefficient of variation for spiking of 185, 85 and 30 cells was 14%. For spiking of 10 cells the within-run CV was 30%. No CTCs were detected in blood of 10 healthy subjects examined.
A standard threshold of 5 CTC/7.5 ml blood as a cut-off point between risk groups led to a highly significant prognostic marker (p < 0.001). To assess the prognostic value of medium CTC levels we additionally considered a low (CTC-L: 0 CTC), a medium (CTC-M: 1–4 CTC) and a high risk group (CTC-H: ≥5 CTC). The effect of this CTC-LMH marker on overall survival was significant as well (p < 0.001). A log-ratio test performed to compare the model with 3 vs. the model with 2 risk groups rejected the model with 2 risk groups (p = 0.026). For CTC as a count variable, we propose an offset reciprocal transformation 1/(1 + x) for overall survival prediction (p < 0.001).
We show that our CTC detection method is feasible and leads to accurate and reliable results. Our data suggest that a refined differentiation between patients with different CTC levels is reasonable.
Epithelial cancer cells are likely to undergo epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) prior to entering the peripheral circulation. By undergoing EMT, circulating tumor cells (CTCs) lose epithelial markers and may escape detection by conventional methods. Therefore, we conducted a pilot study to investigate mRNA transcripts of EMT-inducing transcription factors (TFs) in tumor cells from the peripheral blood (PB) of primary breast cancer (PBC) patients.
Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from 52 stages I–III PBC patients and 30 healthy donors (HD) and sequentially depleted of EpCAM+ cells and CD45+ leukocytes, henceforth referred to as CD45−. The expression levels of EMT-inducing TFs (TWIST1, SNAIL1, SLUG, ZEB1, and FOXC2) in the CD45− cells were determined using qRT-PCR. The highest level of expression by the CD45− cell fraction of HD was used as “cut off” to determine if samples from PBC patients overexpressed any EMT-inducing TFs. In total, 15.4% of PBC patients overexpressed at least one of the EMT-inducing TF transcripts. Overexpression of any EMT-inducing TF transcripts was more likely to be detected in PBC patients who received neoadjuvant therapies (NAT) than patients who received no NAT (P = 0.003). Concurrently, CTCs were detected in 7 out of 38 (18.4%) patients by CellSearch® and 15 out of 42 (35.7%) patients by AdnaTest™. There was no association between the presence of CTCs measured by CellSearch® or AdnaTest™.
In summary, our results demonstrate that CTCs with EMT phenotype may occur in the peripheral circulation of PBC patients and NAT is unable to eliminate CTCs undergoing EMT.
circulating tumor cells; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; primary breast cancer; neoadjuvant therapy
The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood of cancer patients may guide the use of therapy. We investigated how to evaluate a reduction in the number of CTCs after administration of therapy. CTCs were enumerated with the CellSearch system in 111 metastatic breast and 185 metastatic prostate cancer patients before start of a new line of chemotherapy and after initiation of therapy. Different means to express changes in CTC counts were evaluated with respect to overall survival (OS). A static CTC cutoff is the best method to determine whether a therapy is effective. This is exemplified by the highest Cox hazard ratio of 2.1 for OS; three methods to express relative differences performed worse. A lookup table is provided from which the significance of a change in CTCs can be derived. The aim of therapy should be the elimination of all CTCs. A period of 10 to 12 weeks of therapy is needed to reach the treatment effect on CTCs.
Presence of circulating tumor cells (CTC) in patients with metastatic breast, colorectal and prostate cancer is indicative for poor prognosis. An automated CTC (aCTC) algorithm developed previously to eliminate the variability in manual counting of CTC (mCTC) was used to extract morphological features. Here we validated the aCTC algorithm on CTC images from prostate, breast and colorectal cancer patients and investigated the role of quantitative morphological parameters.
Stored images of samples from patients with prostate, breast and colorectal cancer, healthy controls, benign breast and colorectal tumors were obtained using the CellSearch system. Images were analyzed for the presence of aCTC and their morphological parameters measured and correlated with survival.
Overall survival hazard ratio was not significantly different for aCTC and mCTC. The number of CTC correlated strongest with survival, whereas CTC size, roundness and apoptosis features reached significance in univariate analysis, but not in multivariate analysis. One aCTC/7.5 ml of blood was found in 7 of 204 healthy controls and 9 of 694 benign tumors. In one patient with benign tumor 2 and another 9 aCTC were detected.
Significance of the study
CTC can be identified and morphological features extracted by an algorithm on images stored by the CellSearch system and strongly correlate with clinical outcome in metastatic breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
Circulating tumor cell (CTC) counts are an established prognostic marker in metastatic prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer, and recent data suggests a similar role in late stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, due to sensitivity constraints in current enrichment-based CTC detection technologies, there is little published data about CTC prevalence rates and morphologic heterogeneity in early stage NSCLC, or the correlation of CTCs with disease progression and their usability for clinical staging. We investigated CTC counts, morphology, and aggregation in early stage, locally advanced, and metastatic NSCLC patients by using a fluid phase biopsy approach that identifies CTCs without relying on surface receptor-based enrichment and presents them in sufficiently high definition (HD) to satisfy diagnostic pathology image quality requirements. HD-CTCs were analyzed in blood samples from 78 chemotherapy-naïve NSCLC patients. 73% of the total population had a positive HD-CTC count (> 0 CTC in 1 mL of blood) with a median of 4.4 HD-CTCs/mL (range 0–515.6) and a mean of 44.7 (±95.2) HD-CTCs/mL. No significant difference in the medians of HD-CTC counts was detected between stage IV (n=31, range 0–178.2), stage III (n=34, range 0–515.6) and stages I/II (n=13, range 0–442.3). Furthermore, HD-CTCs exhibited a uniformity in terms of molecular and physical characteristics such as fluorescent cytokeratin intensity, nuclear size, frequency of apoptosis and aggregate formation across the spectrum of staging.
Our results demonstrate that, despite stringent morphologic inclusion criteria for the definition of HD-CTCs, the HD-CTC assay shows high sensitivity in the detection and characterization of both early and late stage lung cancer CTCs. Larger studies are warranted to investigate the prognostic value of CTC profiling in early stage lung cancer. This finding has implications for the design of larger studies examining screening, therapy, and surveillance in lung cancer patients.
Epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM)-based enumeration of circulating tumor cells (CTC) has prognostic value in patients with solid tumors, such as advanced breast, colon, and prostate cancer. However, poor sensitivity has been reported for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). To address this problem, we developed a microcavity array (MCA) system integrated with a miniaturized device for CTC isolation without relying on EpCAM expression. Here, we report the results of a clinical study on CTCs of advanced lung cancer patients in which we compared the MCA system with the CellSearch system, which employs the conventional EpCAM-based method.
Paired peripheral blood samples were collected from 43 metastatic lung cancer patients to enumerate CTCs using the CellSearch system according to the manufacturer’s protocol and the MCA system by immunolabeling and cytomorphological analysis. The presence of CTCs was assessed blindly and independently by both systems.
CTCs were detected in 17 of 22 NSCLC patients using the MCA system versus 7 of 22 patients using the CellSearch system. On the other hand, CTCs were detected in 20 of 21 small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients using the MCA system versus 12 of 21 patients using the CellSearch system. Significantly more CTCs in NSCLC patients were detected by the MCA system (median 13, range 0–291 cells/7.5 mL) than by the CellSearch system (median 0, range 0–37 cells/7.5 ml) demonstrating statistical superiority (p = 0.0015). Statistical significance was not reached in SCLC though the trend favoring the MCA system over the CellSearch system was observed (p = 0.2888). The MCA system also isolated CTC clusters from patients who had been identified as CTC negative using the CellSearch system.
The MCA system has a potential to isolate significantly more CTCs and CTC clusters in advanced lung cancer patients compared to the CellSearch system.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are present in the blood of cancer patients with known metastatic disease across the major types of epithelial malignancies. Recent studies have shown that the concentration of CTCs in the blood is prognostic of overall survival in breast, prostate, colorectal, and non-small cell lung cancer. This study characterizes CTCs identified using the high-definition (HD)-CTC assay in an ovarian cancer patient with stage IIIC disease. We characterized the physical properties of 31 HD-CTCs and 50 normal leukocytes from a single blood draw taken just prior to the initial debulking surgery. We utilized a non-interferometric quantitative phase microscopy technique using brightfield imagery to measure cellular dry mass. Next we used a quantitative differential interference contrast microscopy technique to measure cellular volume. These techniques were combined to determine cellular dry mass density. We found that HD-CTCs were more massive than leukocytes: 33.6 ± 3.2 pg (HD-CTC) compared to 18.7 ± 0.6 pg (leukocytes), p < 0.001; had greater volumes: 518.3 ± 24.5 fL (HD-CTC) compared to 230.9 ± 78.5 fL (leukocyte), p < 0.001; and possessed a decreased dry mass density with respect to leukocytes: 0.065 ± 0.006 pg/fL (HD-CTC) compared to 0.085 ± 0.004 pg/fL (leukocyte), p < 0.006. Quantification of HD-CTC dry mass content and volume provide key insights into the fluid dynamics of cancer, and may provide the rationale for strategies to isolate, monitor or target CTCs based on their physical properties. The parameters reported here can also be incorporated into blood cell flow models to better understand metastasis.
circulating tumor cell; ovarian cancer; differential interference contrast; quantitative phase microscopy; cellular mass; cellular volume; cellular density