A rate-limiting step for circulating tumor cells to colonize distant organ sites is their ability to locate a microenvironmental niche that supports their survival and growth. This can be achieved by features intrinsic to the tumor cells and/or by the conditioning of a “premetastatic” niche. To determine if pulmonary inflammation promotes the latter, we initiated models for inflammatory asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or bleomycin-induced sterile inflammation before introducing tumor cells with low metastatic potential into the circulation. All types of inflammation increased the end-stage metastatic burden of the lungs 14 days after tumor cell inoculation without overtly affecting tumor extravasation. Instead, the number and size of early micrometastatic lesions found within the interstitial tissues 96 hours after tumor cell inoculation were increased in the inflamed lungs, coincident with increased tumor cell survival and the presence of nearby inflammation-induced monocyte-derived macrophages (MoDM; CD11b+CD11c+). Remarkably, the adoptive transfer of these MoDM was sufficient to increase lung metastasis in the absence of inflammation. These inflammation-induced MoDM secrete a number of growth factors and cytokines, one of which is hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), that augmented tumor cell survival under conditions of stress in vitro. Importantly, blocking HGF signaling with the cMET inhibitor capmatinib abolished inflammation-induced early micrometastatic lesion formation in vivo. These findings indicate that inflammation-induced MoDM and HGF in particular increase the efficiency of early metastatic colonization in the lung by locally preconditioning the microenvironment.
Inflammation preconditions the distant site microenvironment to increase the metastatic potential of tumor cells that arrive there.