The liver is one of the most common sites of breast cancer metastasis and is associated with high lethality. Although the interaction between tumor cells and their microenvironment at metastatic sites has been recognized as a key regulator of tumor progression, the underlying mechanism is not fully elucidated.
Researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) describe a three-dimensional (3D) microfluidic human liver-on-a-chip (liver-chip) that emulates the formation of a premetastatic niche to investigate the roles of breast cancer-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) in liver metastasis. They demonstrate that breast cancer-derived EVs activate liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) in the liver-chip, inducing endothelial to mesenchymal transition and destruction of vessel barriers. In addition, the researchers show that transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) in breast cancer-derived EVs upregulates fibronectin, an adhesive extracellular matrix protein, on LSECs, which facilitates the adhesion of breast cancer cells to the liver microenvironment. Furthermore, they observed that EVs isolated from triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) patients with liver metastasis contain higher TGFβ1 levels and induce adhesion of more breast cancer cells to the 3D human liver-chip than do EVs isolated from healthy donors or nonmetastatic TNBC patients. These findings provide a better understanding of the mechanisms through which breast cancer-derived EVs guide secondary metastasis to the liver. Furthermore, the 3D human liver-chip described in this study provides a platform to investigate the mechanisms underlying secondary metastasis to the liver and possible therapeutic strategies.