Tumor relapse is a clinically relevant problem in breast cancer where patients are asymptomatic because disseminated cells appear to become dormant for periods longer than 20 years and are undetectable by current clinical tools. Uncovering phenotypes of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) - the “seeds” of intractable metastasis-offers the promise to dissect CTC heterogeneity in relation to metastatic competence, to predict biomarker assessment, and to significantly improve monitoring and treatment of cancer. However, little is known about CTC biology and how CTCs differ in their capacity to circulate while maintaining a metastatic potential. We hypothesized that EpCAM-negative breast cancer CTC subsets exist, and avoid organ arrest with extreme efficiency by the concomitant presence of quiescence and stem cell properties. We collected peripheral blood of clinically diagnosed breast cancer patients with or without brain metastasis, and performed multiparametric flow cytometry to isolate EpCAM-negative CTC subsets with stem-cell properties (CD44+/CD24-), along with combinatorial expression of two neoplastic markers: urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) and integrin beta1 (int β1). EpCAM-negative CTCs were further interrogated at a single-cell level employing DEPArray platform. Second, we were able to culture FACS-sorted CTC subsets, selected for six cell-surface expression markers (CD45-/EpCAM-negative/CD44+/CD24-/uPAR+/-/int β1+/-), as long-term in-vitro 3D CTC tumorspheres. Third, CTC subsets were interrogated for biomarker profiling and biological characteristics. We identified adhesive, proliferative and invasive properties of 3D CTC tumorspheres which were distinct per uPAR/int β1 combinatorial expression. Lastly, we performed next-generation whole-genome sequencing and mutation analyses to discover unique genomic signatures of uPAR/int β1 CTC subsets and verified as putative CTCs originally disseminated from primary breast tumor. Additional investigations are being pursued assessing the molecular and genomic characterization of uPAR/int β1 CTC subsets comprehensively. Clinical relevance of this research includes that this may enhance abilities to prospectively identify patients who may be at high-risk of developing breast cancer brain metastasis.

Citation Format: Monika Vishnoi, Sirisha Peddibhotla, Wei Yin, Zhong Xue, Antonio T. Scamardo, Goldy C. George, David S. Hong, Dario Marchetti. Dissecting breast cancer dormant CTC phenotypes. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2016 Apr 16-20; New Orleans, LA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2016;76(14 Suppl):Abstract nr 1530.