Cyrus Ghajar

The presence of disseminated tumour cells (DTCs) in bone marrow is predictive of poor metastasis-free survival of patients with breast cancer with localized disease. DTCs persist in distant tissues despite systemic administration of adjuvant chemotherapy. Many assume that this is because the majority of DTCs are quiescent. Here, we challenge this notion and provide evidence that the microenvironment of DTCs protects them from chemotherapy, independent of cell cycle status. We show that chemoresistant DTCs occupy the perivascular niche (PVN) of distant tissues, where they are protected from therapy by vascular endothelium. Inhibiting integrin-mediated interactions between DTCs and the PVN, driven partly by endothelial-derived von Willebrand factor and vascular cell adhesion molecule 1, sensitizes DTCs to chemotherapy. Importantly, chemosensitization is achieved without inducing DTC proliferation or exacerbating chemotherapy-associated toxicities, and ultimately results in prevention of bone metastasis. This suggests that prefacing adjuvant therapy with integrin inhibitors is a viable clinical strategy to eradicate DTCs and prevent metastasis.