Cancer-associated fibroblast heterogeneity in axillary lymph nodes drives metastases in breast cancer through complementary mechanisms
AbstractAlthough fibroblast heterogeneity is recognized in primary tumors, both its characterization in and its impact on metastases remain unknown. Here, combining flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry and RNA-sequencing on breast cancer samples, we identify four Cancer-Associated Fibroblast (CAF) subpopulations in metastatic lymph nodes (LN). Two myofibroblastic subsets, CAF-S1 and CAF-S4, accumulate in LN and correlate with cancer cell invasion. By developing functional assays on primary cultures, we demonstrate that these subsets promote metastasis through distinct functions. While CAF-S1 stimulate cancer cell migration and initiate an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition through CXCL12 and TGFβ pathways, highly contractile CAF-S4 induce cancer cell invasion in 3-dimensions via NOTCH signaling. Patients with high levels of CAFs, particularly CAF-S4, in LN at diagnosis are prone to develop late distant metastases. Our findings suggest that CAF subset accumulation in LN is a prognostic marker, suggesting that CAF subsets could be examined in axillary LN at diagnosis.