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PLoS Comput Biol. 2018 May 24;14(5):e1006131. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006131. eCollection 2018 May.

The complex ecosystem in non small cell lung cancer invasion.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, United States of America.
Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, United States of America.
Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.
Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.


Many tumors are characterized by genetic instability, producing an assortment of genetic variants of tumor cells called subclones. These tumors and their surrounding environments form complex multi-cellular ecosystems, where subclones compete for resources and cooperate to perform multiple tasks, including cancer invasion. Our recent empirical studies revealed existence of such distinct phenotypes of cancer cells, leaders and followers, in lung cancer. These two cellular subclones exchange a complex array of extracellular signals demonstrating a symbiotic relationship at the cellular level. Here, we develop a computational model of the microenvironment of the lung cancer ecosystem to explore how the interactions between subclones can advance or inhibit invasion. We found that, due to the complexity of the ecosystem, invasion may have very different dynamics characterized by the different levels of aggressiveness. By altering the signaling environment, we could alter the ecological relationship between the cell types and the overall ecosystem development. Competition between leader and follower cell populations (defined by the limited amount of resources), positive feedback within the leader cell population (controlled by the focal adhesion kinase and fibronectin signaling), and impact of the follower cells to the leaders (represented by yet undetermined proliferation signal) all had major effects on the outcome of the collective dynamics. Specifically, our analysis revealed a class of tumors (defined by the strengths of fibronectin signaling and competition) that are particularly sensitive to manipulations of the signaling environment. These tumors can undergo irreversible changes to the tumor ecosystem that outlast the manipulations of feedbacks and have a profound impact on invasive potential. Our study predicts a complex division of labor between cancer cell subclones and suggests new treatment strategies targeting signaling within the tumor ecosystem.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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