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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 7;103(10):3752-7. Epub 2006 Feb 27.

Reprogramming metastatic melanoma cells to assume a neural crest cell-like phenotype in an embryonic microenvironment.

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  • 1Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 1000 East 50th Street, Kansas City, MO 64110, USA.


Human metastatic melanoma cells express a dedifferentiated, plastic phenotype, which may serve as a selective advantage, because melanoma cells invade various microenvironments. Over the last three decades, there has been an increased focus on the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer progression, with the goal of reversing the metastatic phenotype. Here, using an embryonic chick model, we explore the possibility of reverting the metastatic melanoma phenotype to its cell type of origin, the neural-crest-derived melanocyte. GFP-labeled adult human metastatic melanoma cells were transplanted in ovo adjacent to host chick premigratory neural crest cells and analyzed 48 and 96 h after egg reincubation. Interestingly, the transplanted melanoma cells do not form tumors. Instead, we find that transplanted melanoma cells invade surrounding chick tissues in a programmed manner, distributing along host neural-crest-cell migratory pathways. The invading melanoma cells display neural-crest-cell-like morphologies and populate host peripheral structures, including the branchial arches, dorsal root and sympathetic ganglia. Analysis of a melanocyte-specific phenotype marker (MART-1) and a neuronal marker (Tuj1) revealed a subpopulation of melanoma cells that invade the chick periphery and express MART-1 and Tuj1. Our results demonstrate the ability of adult human metastatic melanoma cells to respond to chick embryonic environmental cues, a subset of which may undergo a reprogramming of their metastatic phenotype. This model has the potential to provide insights into the regulation of tumor cell plasticity by an embryonic milieu, which may hold significant therapeutic promise.

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