Background: Circulating cancer associated macrophage-like cells (CAMLs) are cancer specific giant cells circulating in the blood of patients with solid tumors. Since their discovery, few studies have been done to elucidate their lineage or phenotypic identity. The difficulty in classifying CAMLs is exemplified by their expression of multiple heterogeneous markers that defy conventional identification. Recently, we described a restaining method (QUAS-R) to screen individual cells using an array of up to 15 biomarkers. We used this method to screen CAMLs isolated from 152 cancer patient samples in 4 types of solid tumors to classify CAMLs by phenotypic immunostaining. These data suggest that CAMLs are a morphologically diverse and phenotypically heterogeneous population of cancer specific giant cells with overlapping myeloid, epithelial, and endothelial phenotypes.

Methods: This multi-institutional study used peripheral blood samples from 152 cancer patients (stage I-IV) from breast (n=42), lung (n=39), renal cell carcinoma (36) and prostate (n=35). Blood was processed by the CellSieve™ microfiltration technique at 5 institutions and stained for cytokeratin 8, 18 & 19, EpCAM, and CD45. After identification/imaging, the QUAS-R (Quench, Underivatize, Amine-Strip and Restain) technique was used to quench fluorescence signal of cells and then restain with vimentin/CD146/CD144, CD14/CD11b/CD41, CD11c/CD68/TIE2, or CD34/CD41/CD61. After staining, QUAS-R was again used to remove the fluorescence and samples restained with a third panel. Each patient sample was stained, quenched and restained with the above mentioned panels.

Results: In agreement with a number of studies, CAMLs were found in 86% of cancer patients (n=131/152), with increased detection from stage 1 (71%), followed by stage 2 (94%), stage 3 (88%) to stage 4 (88%). Breast cancer had the most CAMLs per sample (14.1 cells/7.5mL), followed by prostate (6.8), renal cell carcinoma (4.9) and lung (3.2). CD34 was most prevalent, found on 88% of CAMLs, followed by cytokeratin (81%), CD41 (79%), CD61 (78%), CD45 (75%), CD14 (72%), vimentin (63%), EpCAM (56%), CD146 (53%), CD68 (44%), CD11c (38%), TIE-2 (25%) and CD11b (0%). Based on our results, CAMLs seem to express overlapping phenotypes from a variety of lineages i.e. macrophage (CD14/CD68/CD11c), epithelial (cytokeratin/EpCAM), endothelial (CD146/TIE-2) and megakaryocyte (CD41/CD61).

Conclusions: Although identification of CAMLs is straightforward by morphological criteria (size and nuclear profile), their identification and lineage remains undetermined. We report the first mass screening of CAMLs to determine phenotypic expression. These data suggest that CAMLs cannot be grouped into any known cell subtype based on their expression profiles and represent a heterogeneous and variably differentiated population whose biological consequences in cancer remain under investigation.

Citation Format: Daniel L. Adams, R Katherine Alpaugh, Thai H. Ho, Steven H. Lin, Jeffrey R. Marks, Raymond Bergan, Stuart S. Martin, Saranya Chumsri, Cha-Mei Tang, Massimo Cristofanilli. Multiplex phenotyping of circulating cancer associated macrophage-like cells in patients with solid tumors [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 3798. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-3798