Intratumoral infiltration of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) is known to promote neoplastic growth by inhibiting the tumoricidal activity of T cells. However, direct interactions between patient-derived MDSCs and circulating tumors cells (CTCs) within the microenvironment of blood remain unexplored. Dissecting interplays between CTCs and circulatory MDSCs by heterotypic CTC/MDSC clustering is critical as a key mechanism to promote CTC survival and sustain the metastatic process. We characterized CTCs and polymorphonuclear-MDSCs (PMN-MDSCs) isolated in parallel from peripheral blood of metastatic melanoma and breast cancer patients by multiparametric flow cytometry. Transplantation of both cell populations in the systemic circulation of mice revealed significantly enhanced dissemination and metastasis in mice coinjected with CTCs and PMN-MDSCs compared to mice injected with CTCs or MDSCs alone. Notably, CTC/PMN-MDSC clusters were detected in vitro and in vivo either in patients’ blood or by longitudinal monitoring of blood from animals. This was coupled with in vitro coculturing of cell populations, demonstrating that CTCs formed physical clusters with PMN-MDSCs, and induced their protumorigenic differentiation through paracrine Nodal signaling, augmenting the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by PMN-MDSCs. These findings were validated by detecting significantly higher Nodal and ROS levels in blood of cancer patients in the presence of naïve, heterotypic CTC/PMN-MDSC clusters. Augmented PMN-MDSC ROS upregulated Notch1 receptor expression in CTCs through the ROS-NRF2-ARE axis, thus priming CTCs to respond to ligand-mediated (Jagged1) Notch activation. Jagged1-expressing PMN-MDSCs contributed to enhanced Notch activation in CTCs by engagement of Notch1 receptor. The reciprocity of CTC/PMN-MDSC bidirectional paracrine interactions and signaling was functionally validated in inhibitor-based analyses, demonstrating that combined Nodal and ROS inhibition abrogated CTC/PMN-MDSC interactions and led to a reduction of CTC survival and proliferation. This study provides seminal evidence showing that PMN-MDSCs, additive to their immunosuppressive roles, directly interact with CTCs and promote their dissemination and metastatic potency. Targeting CTC/PMN-MDSC heterotypic clusters and associated crosstalks can therefore represent a novel therapeutic avenue for limiting hematogenous spread of metastatic disease.

Citation Format: Marc Sprouse, Thomas Welte, Debasish Boral, Monika Vishnoi, Haowen Liu, Isabella Glitza-Oliva, Dario Marchetti. PMN-MDSCs enhance CTC metastatic properties through reciprocal interactions via ROS/Notch/Nodal Nodal signaling [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR Special Conference on Advances in Liquid Biopsies; Jan 13-16, 2020; Miami, FL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Clin Cancer Res 2020;26(11_Suppl):Abstract nr B23.