Targeting microenvironmental factors that foster migratory cell phenotypes is a promising strategy for halting tumor migration. However, lack of mechanistic understanding of the emergence of migratory phenotypes impedes pharmaceutical drug development. Using our three-dimensional microtumor model with tight control over tumor size, we recapitulated the tumor size–induced hypoxic microenvironment and emergence of migratory phenotypes in microtumors from epithelial breast cells and patient-derived primary metastatic breast cancer cells, mesothelioma cells, and lung cancer xenograft cells. The microtumor models from various patient-derived tumor cells and patient-derived xenograft cells revealed upregulation of tumor-secreted factors, including matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9), fibronectin (FN), and soluble E-cadherin, consistent with clinically reported elevated levels of FN and MMP9 in patient breast tumors compared with healthy mammary glands. Secreted factors in the conditioned media of large microtumors induced a migratory phenotype in nonhypoxic, nonmigratory small microtumors. Subsequent mathematical analyses identified a two-stage microtumor progression and migration mechanism whereby hypoxia induces a migratory phenotype in the initialization stage, which then becomes self-sustained through a positive feedback loop established among the tumor-secreted factors. Computational and experimental studies showed that inhibition of tumor-secreted factors effectively halts microtumor migration despite tumor-to-tumor variation in migration kinetics, while inhibition of hypoxia is effective only within a time window and is compromised by tumor-to-tumor variation, supporting our notion that hypoxia initiates migratory phenotypes but does not sustain it. In summary, we show that targeting temporal dynamics of evolving microenvironments, especially tumor-secreted factors during tumor progression, can halt tumor migration. Significance: This study uses state-of-the-art three-dimensional microtumor models and computational approaches to highlight the temporal dynamics of tumor-secreted microenvironmental factors in inducing tumor migration.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research