Targeting USP7 identifies a metastasis-competent state within bone marrow–resident melanoma CTCs

Monika Vishnoi, Debasish Boral, Haowen Liu, Marc L. Sprouse, Wei Yin, Debalina Goswami-Sewell, Michael T. Tetzlaff, Michael A. Davies, Isabella C. Glitza Oliva, Dario Marchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Systemic metastasis is the major cause of death from melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Although most patients with melanoma exhibit a substantial gap between onset of primary and metastatic tumors, signaling mechanisms implicated in the period of metastatic latency remain unclear. We hypothesized that melanoma circulating tumor cells (CTC) home to and reside in the bone marrow during the asymptomatic phase of disease progression. Using a strategy to deplete normal cell lineages (Lin), we isolated CTC-enriched cell populations from the blood of patients with metastatic melanoma verified b the presence of putative CTCs characterized by melanoma-specific biomarkers and upregulated gene transcripts involved in cell survival and prodevelopment functions. Implantation of Lin population in NSG mice (CTC-derived xenografts, i.e., CDX), and subsequent transcriptomic analysis of ex vivo bone marrow–resident tumor cells (BMRTC) versus CTC identified protein ubiquitination as a significant regulatory pathway of BMRTC signaling. Selective inhibition of USP7, a key deubiquinating enzyme, arrested BMRTCs in bone marrow locales and decreased systemic micrometastasis. This study provides first-time evidence that the asymptomatic progression of metastatic melanoma can be recapitulated in vivo using patient-isolated CTCs. Furthermore, these results suggest that USP7 inhibitors warrant further investigation as a strategy to prevent progression to overt clinical metastasis. Significance: These findings provide insights into mechanism of melanoma recurrence and propose a novel approach to inhibit systematic metastatic disease by targeting bone marrow-resident tumor cells through pharmacological inhibition of USP7. Graphical Abstract: Cancer Res; 78(18); 5349–62. 2018 AACR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5249-5262
Number of pages14
JournalCancer research
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 15 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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