Ninety percent of breast cancer-related mortalities result from metastasis, a process whereby the primary tumour disseminates and targets distant secondary organs. We have previously demonstrated that stem-like breast cancer cells expressing high levels of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and CD44 are critical for metastasis. These ALDHhiCD44+ cells preferentially migrate and/or metastasize to the lung and bone microenvironments, where secondary tumours can severely impede organ function. However, the specific role of the lung and bone marrow (BM) microenvironments in supporting and/or promoting metastasis of ALDHhiCD44+ cells remains poorly understood, and this is the purpose of the current study. Using a 2D ex vivo model, lung and bone marrow (BM) conditioned media (CM) enriched in tissue-specific soluble proteins were generated from murine tissues and utilized in cell culture to assess their ability to influence the stem-like phenotype and behavior of MDA-MB-468 human breast cancer cells. Exposure to lung-CM promoted the generation of a viable, non-adherent (“floating”) breast cancer cell subpopulation that was not observed in response to BM-CM or basal media (p<0.05). Phenotypic analysis by flow cytometry and gene expression analysis by RT-qPCR revealed notable differences in ALDH/CD44 phenotype in whole cell populations, adherent subpopulations, and/or non-adherent subpopulations in response to 72 hour exposure to lung-CM relative to basal media. In particular, the non-adherent breast cancer cell subpopulation generated in response to lung-CM demonstrated increased CD44 and ALDH1A3 gene expression and decreased ALDH1A1 gene expression relative to the adherent subpopulation (p<0.05). No significant phenotypic or gene expression differences were observed in MDA-MB-468 breast cancer cells in response to BM-CM. Taken together with our previous studies, these findings suggest that while both the lung and bone microenvironments support breast cancer cells with a pre-existing ALDHhiCD44+ phenotype, the lung microenvironment may additionally help to even further promote stem-like phenotype and behavior in the secondary metastatic site. Ongoing studies are aimed at elucidating the mechanisms by which aggressive ALDHhiCD44+ breast cancer cells interact with and/or are influenced by the lung microenvironment during metastatic progression.

Citation Format: Ashkan Sadri, Alison L. Allan. The lung microenvironment promotes stem-like phenotype and behavior of breast cancer cells [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 1928. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-1928