Landscape of Bone Marrow Metastasis in Human Neuroblastoma Unraveled by Transcriptomics and Deep Multiplex Imaging

Bone marrow metastasis frequently occurs in patients with solid cancers and most often leads to poor outcome. Yet, the composition of bone marrow metastases, including tumor and surrounding cells, has so far not been characterized. Herein, we aimed to investigate the diversity of tumor and surrounding cells, i.e., the microenvironment, in bone marrow metastases, using the childhood tumor neuroblastoma as a model. To this end, we screened genome-wide datasets to define a panel of cell-specific markers for multiplex microscopy of metastatic bone marrow samples, and developed DeepFLEX, a computational pipeline for subsequent image analysis. Thereby, we identified 35,000 single cells covering metastasized tumor cells, and various types of developing immune and bone marrow cells. In parallel, we analyzed the transcriptome, i.e., all genes that are expressed as mRNA, of 38 patients with and without bone marrow metastasis. We found vast tumor cell diversity and identified a marker protein, FAIM2, which can help to identify a broader range of tumor cell variants. In addition we showed that tumor cell metastasis in the bone marrow is associated with an immune response resembling inflammation, and the presence of cells that can repress an immune attack against cancer cells. Our study suggests that metastatic tumor cells are shaping the bone marrow microenvironment and builds the basis to further investigate its clinical relevance.
Cancers. 2021, vol. 13, issue 17, p. 1-25.
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