Vasculogenic mimicry in small cell lung cancer

Williamson, S. C.; Metcalf, R. L.; Trapani, F.; Mohan, S.; Antonello, J.; Abbott, B.; Leong, H. S.; Chester, C. P.; Simms, N.; Polanski, R.; Nonaka, D.; Priest, L.; Fusi, A.; Carlsson, F.; Carlsson, A.; Hendrix, M. J.; Seftor, R. E.; Seftor, E. A.; Rothwell, D. G.; Hughes, A.; Hicks, J.; Miller, C.; Kuhn, P.; Brady, G.; Simpson, K. L.; Blackhall, F. H.; Dive, C.

Nat Commun. 2016 Nov 9; 7:13322


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is characterized by prevalent circulating tumour cells (CTCs), early metastasis and poor prognosis. We show that SCLC patients (37/38) have rare CTC subpopulations co-expressing vascular endothelial-cadherin (VE-cadherin) and cytokeratins consistent with vasculogenic mimicry (VM), a process whereby tumour cells form 'endothelial-like' vessels. Single-cell genomic analysis reveals characteristic SCLC genomic changes in both VE-cadherin-positive and -negative CTCs. Higher levels of VM are associated with worse overall survival in 41 limited-stage patients' biopsies (P<0.025). VM vessels are also observed in 9/10 CTC patient-derived explants (CDX), where molecular analysis of fractionated VE-cadherin-positive cells uncovered copy-number alterations and mutated TP53, confirming human tumour origin. VE-cadherin is required for VM in NCI-H446 SCLC xenografts, where VM decreases tumour latency and, despite increased cisplatin intra-tumour delivery, decreases cisplatin efficacy. The functional significance of VM in SCLC suggests VM regulation may provide new targets for therapeutic intervention.

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