bims-ecemfi Biomed News
on ECM and fibroblasts
Issue of 2024‒04‒07
eleven papers selected by
Badri Narayanan Narasimhan, University of California, San Diego

  1. Ups J Med Sci. 2024 ;129
      The complex interplay between genetically diverse tumor cells and their microenvironment significantly influences cancer progression and therapeutic responses. This review highlights recent findings on cellular plasticity and heterogeneity within the breast cancer ecosystem, focusing on the roles of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). We discuss evidence suggesting that breast cancer cells exhibit phenotypic plasticity driven by both intrinsic genetic factors and external microenvironmental cues, impacting treatment responses and disease recurrence. Moreover, single-cell RNA sequencing studies reveal diverse subtypes of CAFs and TAMs, each with distinct functional gene expression programs and spatial organization within the tumor microenvironment. Understanding the hierarchical relationships and niche cues governing cellular phenotypes offers new opportunities for targeted therapeutic interventions. By elucidating the organizational principles of the tumor ecosystem, future therapies may target phenotypic states or entire cellular niches, advancing precision medicine approaches in breast cancer treatment.
    Keywords:  Tumor microenvironment; cancer-associated fibroblasts; macrophages; tumor-initiating cells
  2. Front Mol Biosci. 2024 ;11 1340124
      Enhanced knowledge of the interaction of cancer cells with their environment elucidated the critical role of tumor microenvironment in tumor progression and chemoresistance. Cancer-associated fibroblasts act as the protagonists of the tumor microenvironment, fostering the metastasis, stemness, and chemoresistance of cancer cells and attenuating the anti-cancer immune responses. Gastric cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers in the clinic, refractory to anti-cancer therapies. Growing evidence indicates that cancer-associated fibroblasts are the most prominent risk factors for a poor tumor immune microenvironment and dismal prognosis in gastric cancer. Therefore, targeting cancer-associated fibroblasts may be central to surpassing resistance to conventional chemotherapeutics, molecular-targeted agents, and immunotherapies, improving survival in gastric cancer. However, the heterogeneity in cancer-associated fibroblasts may complicate the development of cancer-associated fibroblast targeting approaches. Although single-cell sequencing studies started dissecting the heterogeneity of cancer-associated fibroblasts, the research community should still answer these questions: "What makes a cancer-associated fibroblast protumorigenic?"; "How do the intracellular signaling and the secretome of different cancer-associated fibroblast subpopulations differ from each other?"; and "Which cancer-associated fibroblast subtypes predominate specific cancer types?". Unveiling these questions can pave the way for discovering efficient cancer-associated fibroblast targeting strategies. Here, we review current knowledge and perspectives on these questions, focusing on how CAFs induce aggressiveness and therapy resistance in gastric cancer. We also review potential therapeutic approaches to prevent the development and activation of cancer-associated fibroblasts via inhibition of CAF inducers and CAF markers in cancer.
    Keywords:  cancer-associated fibroblasts; chemoresistance; gastric cancer; metastasis; stemness; tumor microenvironment
  3. APL Bioeng. 2024 Jun;8(2): 021502
      The tumor microenvironment (TME), composed of and influenced by a heterogeneous set of cancer cells and an extracellular matrix, plays a crucial role in cancer progression. The biophysical aspects of the TME (namely, its architecture and mechanics) regulate interactions and spatial distributions of cancer cells and immune cells. In this review, we discuss the factors of the TME-notably, the extracellular matrix, as well as tumor and stromal cells-that contribute to a pro-tumor, immunosuppressive response. We then discuss the ways in which cells of the innate and adaptive immune systems respond to tumors from both biochemical and biophysical perspectives, with increased focus on CD8+ and CD4+ T cells. Building upon this information, we turn to immune-based antitumor interventions-specifically, recent biophysical breakthroughs aimed at improving CAR-T cell therapy.
  4. Cancer Res. 2024 Apr 01. 84(7): 958-960
      The extracellular matrix (ECM) has always been studied in the context of the structural support it provides tissues. However, more recently, it has become clear that ECM proteins do more to regulate biological processes relevant to cancer progression: from activating complex signaling pathways to presenting soluble growth factors. In 2009, Ulrich and colleagues provided evidence that the physical properties of the ECM could also contribute to glioblastoma tumor cell proliferation and invasion using tunable hydrogels, emphasizing a role for tumor rigidity in central nervous system cancer progression. Here, we will discuss the results of this landmark article, as well as highlight other work that has shown the importance of tissue stiffness in glioblastoma and other tumor types in the tumor microenvironment. Finally, we will discuss how this research has led to the development of novel treatments for cancer that target tumor rigidity. See related article by Ulrich and colleagues, Cancer Res 2009;69:4167-74.
  5. J Mater Chem B. 2024 Apr 02.
      The natural extracellular matrix (ECM) consists of a continuous integrated fibrin network and a negatively charged proteoglycan-based matrix. In this work, we report a novel three-dimensional nanofiber hydrogel composite that mimics the natural ECM structure, exhibiting both degradability and mechanical characteristics comparable to that of tumor tissue. The embedded nanofiber improves the hydrogel mechanical properties, and varying the fiber density can match the elastic modulus of different tumor tissues (1.51-10.77 kPa). The degradability of the scaffold gives sufficient space for tumor cells to secrete and remodel the ECM. The expression levels of cancer stem cell markers confirmed the development of aggressive and metastatic phenotypes of prostate cancer cells in the 3D scaffold. Similar results were obtained in terms of anticancer resistance of prostate cancer cells in 3D scaffolds showing stem cell-like properties, suggesting that the current bionic 3D scaffold tumor model has broad potential in the development of effective targeted agents.
  6. Cancer Cell. 2024 Mar 31. pii: S1535-6108(24)00090-4. [Epub ahead of print]
      The tumor microenvironment (TME) in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) involves a significant accumulation of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) as part of the host response to tumor cells. The origins and functions of transcriptionally diverse CAF populations in PDAC remain poorly understood. Tumor cell-intrinsic genetic mutations and epigenetic dysregulation may reshape the TME; however, their impacts on CAF heterogeneity remain elusive. SETD2, a histone H3K36 trimethyl-transferase, functions as a tumor suppressor. Through single-cell RNA sequencing, we identify a lipid-laden CAF subpopulation marked by ABCA8a in Setd2-deficient pancreatic tumors. Our findings reveal that tumor-intrinsic SETD2 loss unleashes BMP2 signaling via ectopic gain of H3K27Ac, leading to CAFs differentiation toward lipid-rich phenotype. Lipid-laden CAFs then enhance tumor progression by providing lipids for mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation via ABCA8a transporter. Together, our study links CAF heterogeneity to epigenetic dysregulation in tumor cells, highlighting a previously unappreciated metabolic interaction between CAFs and pancreatic tumor cells.
    Keywords:  OXPHOS; Pancreatic cancer; SETD2; cell communication; epigenetic dysregulation; lipid-laden CAF
  7. Nat Commun. 2024 Apr 01. 15(1): 2806
      Although heterogeneity of FAP+ Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts (CAF) has been described in breast cancer, their plasticity and spatial distribution remain poorly understood. Here, we analyze trajectory inference, deconvolute spatial transcriptomics at single-cell level and perform functional assays to generate a high-resolution integrated map of breast cancer (BC), with a focus on inflammatory and myofibroblastic (iCAF/myCAF) FAP+ CAF clusters. We identify 10 spatially-organized FAP+ CAF-related cellular niches, called EcoCellTypes, which are differentially localized within tumors. Consistent with their spatial organization, cancer cells drive the transition of detoxification-associated iCAF (Detox-iCAF) towards immunosuppressive extracellular matrix (ECM)-producing myCAF (ECM-myCAF) via a DPP4- and YAP-dependent mechanism. In turn, ECM-myCAF polarize TREM2+ macrophages, regulatory NK and T cells to induce immunosuppressive EcoCellTypes, while Detox-iCAF are associated with FOLR2+ macrophages in an immuno-protective EcoCellType. FAP+ CAF subpopulations accumulate differently according to the invasive BC status and predict invasive recurrence of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which could help in identifying low-risk DCIS patients eligible for therapeutic de-escalation.
  8. Phys Biol. 2024 Apr 04.
      Uncontrolled growth of tumor cells in confined spaces leads to the accumulation of compressive stress within the tumor. Although the effects of tension within 3D extracellular matrices on tumor growth and invasion are well established, the role of compression in tumor mechanics and invasion is largely unexplored. In this study, we modified a Transwell assay such that it provides constant compressive loads to spheroids embedded within a collagen matrix. We used microscopic imaging to follow the single cell dynamics of the cells within the spheroids, as well as invasion into the 3D extracellular matrices (ECMs). Our experimental results showed that malignant breast tumor (MDA-MB-231) and non-tumorigenic epithelial (MCF10A) spheroids responded differently to a constant compression. Cells within the malignant spheroids became more motile within the spheroids and invaded more into the ECM under compression; whereas cells within non-tumorigenic MCF10A spheroids became less motile within the spheroids and did not display apparent detachment from the spheroids under compression. These findings suggest that compression may play differential roles in healthy and pathogenic epithelial tissues and highlight the importance of tumor mechanics and invasion.&#xD.
    Keywords:  3D ECM; invasion; tumor compression; tumor microenvironment; tumor spheroid
  9. Cancer Cell Int. 2024 Apr 05. 24(1): 127
      BACKGROUND: Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) drive cancer progression and treatment failure on one hand, while their tumor-restraining functions are also observed on the other. Recent single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) analyses demonstrates heterogeneity of CAFs and defines molecular subtypes of CAFs, which help explain their different functions. However, it remains unclear whether these CAF subtypes have the same or different biological/clinical implications in prostate cancer (PCa) or other malignancies.METHODS: PCa cells were incubated with supernatant from normal fibroblasts and CAFs to assess their effects on cell behaviors. Sequencing, genomic, and clinical data were collected from TCGA, MSKCC, CPGEA and GEO databases. CAF molecular subtypes and total CAF scores were constructed and grouped into low and high groups based on CAF-specific gene expression. Progression free interval (PFI), clinicopathological features, telomere length, immune cell infiltration, drug treatment and somatic mutations were compared among CAF molecular subtypes and low/high score groups.
    RESULTS: The PCa CAF-derived supernatant promoted PCa cell proliferation and invasion. Based on differentially expressed genes identified by scRNA-seq analyses, we classified CAFs into 6 molecular subtypes in PCa tumors, and each subtype was then categorized into score-high and low groups according to the subtype-specific gene expression level. Such score models in 6 CAF subtypes all predicted PFI. Telomeres were significantly shorter in high-score tumors. The total CAF score from 6 CAF subtypes was also associated with PFI in PCa patients inversely, which was consistent with results from cellular experiments. Immunosuppressive microenvironment occurred more frequently in tumors with a high CAF score, which was characterized by increased CTLA4 expression and indicated better responses to CTLA4 inhibitors. Moreover, this model can also serve as a useful PFI predictor in pan-cancers.
    CONCLUSION: By combining scRNA-seq and bulk RNA-seq data analyses, we develop a CAF subtype score system as a prognostic factor for PCa and other cancer types. This model system also helps distinguish different immune-suppressive mechanisms in PCa, suggesting its implications in predicting response to immunotherapy. Thus, the present findings should contribute to personalized PCa intervention.
    Keywords:  Caner associated fibroblasts; Immunotherapy; Prostate cancer; Tumor microenvironment; Tumor progression
  10. Onco Targets Ther. 2024 ;17 243-260
      Purpose: This research explored the association between CD163-labeled M2-type macrophages and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) in the tumor microenvironment (TME) of 38 colorectal cancer (CRC) liver metastases. In addition, we investigated the correlation differences between M2-type macrophages and CAFs in the tumor microenvironments of 38 primary colorectal cancer patients with confirmed liver metastases and 946 colorectal cancer patients, as well as possible mechanisms of action between the two cells.Methods: The Immunohistochemistry (IHC) method was applied to detect the expression levels of M2-type macrophages and CAFs in the tissues of 984 cases of CRC and to analyze the correlation between M2-type macrophages and CAFs in colorectal cancer tissues. The IHC method was also applied to detect the expression levels of M2-type macrophages and CAFs in the liver metastases of 38 cases of CRC in the experimental group and to analyze the correlation between the two cells in liver metastases.
    Results: 1. M2-type macrophages and CAFs expression were significantly higher in 38 primary colorectal cancer patients compared to 946 controls, and the expression of M2-type macrophages was significantly positively correlated with CAFs. 2. In 984 CRC cases, M2-type macrophages and CAFs expression levels were significantly higher in the cancer tissues than in the paired paracancerous tissues. 3. The expression levels of M2-type macrophages and CAFs in primary colorectal cancer were significantly higher in the experimental group than in colorectal cancer tissues without distant metastasis.
    Conclusion: M2-type macrophages and CAFs are involved in the development of the colorectal cancer tumor microenvironment, and their interaction influences the initiation and progression of liver metastasis in colorectal cancer. It may provide new clinical ideas for early diagnosis of CRC liver metastases and searching for immune targets.
    Keywords:  M2-type macrophages; cancer-associated fibroblasts; colorectal cancer; liver metastasis
  11. PLoS One. 2024 ;19(4): e0299827
      Comprehensive understanding prognostic relevance of distinct tumor microenvironment (TME) remained elusive in colon cancer. In this study, we performed in silico analysis of the stromal components of primary colon cancer, with a focus on the markers of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF) and tumor-associated endothelia (TAE), as well as immunological infiltrates like tumor-associated myeloid cells (TAMC) and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). The relevant CAF-associated genes (CAFG)(representing R index = 0.9 or beyond with SPARC) were selected based on stroma specificity (cancer stroma/epithelia, cS/E = 10 or beyond) and expression amounts, which were largely exhibited negative prognostic impacts. CAFG were partially shared with TAE-associated genes (TAEG)(PLAT, ANXA1, and PTRF) and TAMC-associated genes (TAMCG)(NNMT), but not with CTL-associated genes (CTLG). Intriguingly, CAFG were prognostically subclassified in order of fibrosis (representing COL5A2, COL5A1, and COL12A1) followed by exclusive TAEG and TAMCG. Prognosis was independently stratified by CD8A, a CTL marker, in the context of low expression of the strongest negative prognostic CAFG, COL8A1. CTLG were comprehensively identified as IFNG, B2M, and TLR4, in the group of low S/E, representing good prognosis. Our current in silico analysis of the micro-dissected stromal gene signatures with prognostic relevance clarified comprehensive understanding of clinical features of the TME and provides deep insights of the landscape.