Over 90% of breast cancer deaths are due to complications as a consequence of metastasis formation. Much progress has been made in understanding primary breast cancer formation; however, metastatic disease is still largely unexplored, poorly understood and incurable. Clearly, there is an urgent need for novel therapies with efficacious anti-metastatic activity. The different steps of the metastatic cascade are largely regulated by reciprocal interactions between cancer cells and their microenvironment. Accumulating evidence indicates that cells and mediators of the immune system can facilitate metastasis formation. To mechanistically study how immune cells and their mediators modulate breast cancer metastasis, we have recently developed a mouse model of spontaneous breast cancer metastasis that mimics the clinical course of metastatic disease in humans. The basis is the K14cre;EcadF/F;p53F/F transgenic mouse that develops breast cancer resembling human invasive lobular carcinoma. We orthotopically transplant invasive lobular carcinoma fragments from these mice into mammary glands of wild-type syngeneic mice. Once primary tumors are established, we mimic the clinical setting and perform a mastectomy. Following surgery, the mice develop clinically overt metastases in lymph nodes, lungs, liver and other distant organs. This novel mouse model of breast cancer metastasis accurately mimics each step of the metastatic cascade in humans. It provides a unique tool to further explore the biology of metastatic breast cancer with the aim to contribute to the development of more effective treatment strategies.

Neutrophils make up a significant proportion of the inflammatory infiltrate in many tumors and their accumulation in breast cancer patients has been associated with metastasis formation. Also in our spontaneous breast cancer metastasis mouse model, metastasis formation is accompanied by a very pronounced accumulation of neutrophils in circulation and distant organs. Antibody-mediated depletion of neutrophils did not affect primary breast cancer outgrowth, but did result in a profound decrease in lung and lymph node metastasis. Using biological and genomic approaches, we have uncovered a novel communication network between gamma delta T cells and neutrophils that is critical for breast cancer metastasis. We are currently dissecting the mechanisms by which neutrophils facilitate breast cancer metastasis formation.

Besides regulating metastatic disease, the immune system also modulates responsiveness of cancer to conventional forms of therapy. Using the K14cre;EcdF/F;p53F/F mouse mammary tumor model, we study the ability of the immune system to influence the anti-cancer efficacy of chemotherapy. We have observed that it is very important to optimally match chemotherapeutic drugs with immunomodulatory compounds. In addition, combining chemotherapy with an immunomodulatory drug can trigger a rewiring of the inflammatory tumor microenvironment resulting in immune-dependent therapy resistance. Taken together, through mechanistic understanding of the crosstalk between the immune system and cancer, we aim to contribute to the design of novel immunomodulatory strategies to fight metastatic breast cancer and to increase the efficacy of conventional anti-cancer therapies.

(Supported by the Dutch Cancer Society grant 2011-5004, NWO/VIDI 91796307, AICR 11-0677 and FP7 MCA-ITN 317445)

Citation Format: Seth B. Coffelt, Chris W. Doornebal, Metamia Ciampricotti, Camilla Salvagno, Kelly Kersten, Kim Vrijland, Cheei-Sing Hau, Jos Jonkers, Karin E. De Visser. Cancer-associated inflammation facilitates metastatic breast cancer and counteracts chemoresponsiveness. [abstract]. In: Abstracts: AACR Special Conference on Cellular Heterogeneity in the Tumor Microenvironment; 2014 Feb 26-Mar 1; San Diego, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2015;75(1 Suppl):Abstract nr IA07. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.CHTME14-IA07