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Functional analysis of single cells identifies a rare subset of circulating tumor cells with malignant traits

Xiaosai Yao, Atish D Choudhury, Yvonne J Yamanaka, Viktor A Adalsteinsson, Todd M Gierahn, Christina A Williamson, Carla R Lamb, Mary-Ellen Taplin, Mari Nakabayashi, Matthew S Chabot, Tiantian Li, Gwo-Shu M Lee, Jesse S Boehm, Philip W Kantoff, William C Hahn, K Dane Wittrup, J Christopher Love
Integrative Biology: Quantitative Biosciences From Nano to Macro 2014, 6 (4): 388-98
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Ample evidence supports genetic and functional heterogeneity in primary tumors, but it remains unclear whether circulating tumor cells (CTCs) also exhibit the same hierarchical organization. We examined the functional diversity of viable, single CTCs using an array of subnanoliter wells (nanowells). The compartmentalization of single cells by nanowells allowed clonal comparison and mapping of heterogeneity of single cells or preformed clusters of cells. By measuring the short-term viability, invasiveness and secretory profiles of individual CTCs, it was evident that only a rare subset of CTCs possessed malignant traits indicative of metastatic potential in late-stage, progressing metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. These CTCs were resistant to anoikis after being in the circulation, were invasive in their epithelial state, or secreted proteases capable of cleaving peptide substrates. Every CTC observed, however, did not exhibit such metastatic potential, suggesting that enumeration of CTCs alone may be insufficient to understand metastasis or stratify patients.

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