The identification of a TNBC liver metastasis gene signature by sequential CTC-xenograft modeling

Monika Vishnoi, Nikki Haowen Liu, Wei Yin, Debasish Boral, Antonio Scamardo, David Hong, Dario Marchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) liver metastasis is associated with poor prognosis and low patient survival. It occurs when tumor cells disseminate from primary tumors, circulate in blood/lymph [circulating tumor cells (CTCs)], and acquire distinct characteristics during disease progression toward the metastatic phenotype. The purpose of this study was to decipher the genomic/transcriptomic properties of TNBC liver metastasis and its recurrence for potential therapeutic targeting. We employed a negative depletion strategy to isolate and interrogate CTCs from the blood of patients with TNBC, and to establish sequential generations of CTC-derived xenografts (CDXs) through injection of patient CTCs in immunodeficient mice. The isolation and validation of CDX-derived cell populations [analyses of CTCs were paired with bone marrow-resident cells (BMRTCs) and liver tissue cells obtained from the same animal] were performed by multiparametric flow cytometry, immune phenotyping, and genomic sequencing of putative CTCs. Comprehensive characterization of gene expression arrays from sequentially generated CDX-derived cell populations, online gene expression arrays, and TCGA databases were employed to discover a CTC-driven, liver metastasis-associated TNBC signature. We discovered a distinct transcriptomic signature of TNBC patient-isolated CTCs from primary TNBCs, which was consistent throughout sequential CDX modeling. We established a novel TNBC liver metastasis-specific CDX model that selectively recapitulates CTC biology for four sequential generations of mice. The evaluation of online databases and CDX-derived populations revealed 597 genes specific to the TNBC liver metastasis signatures. Further investigation of the TNBC liver metastasis signature predicted 16 hub genes, 6 biomarkers with clinically available drugs, and 22 survival genes. The sequential interrogation of CDX-CTCs is an innovative liquid biopsy-based approach for the discovery of organ metastasis-specific signatures of CTCs. This represents the first step for mechanistic and analytical validation in their application as prognostic indicators and therapeutic targets. Targeting CTC drug candidate biomarkers along with combination therapy can improve the clinical outcome of TNBC patients in general and recurrence of liver metastasis in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1913-1926
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Oncology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • CTC-derived xenografts
  • Genomics/transcriptomic analyses of CDX-derived CTC populations
  • bone marrow-resident tumor cells
  • circulating tumor cells
  • liver metastasis
  • triple-negative breast cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'The identification of a TNBC liver metastasis gene signature by sequential CTC-xenograft modeling'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this