Cancer is a leading cause of death and disease worldwide. However, while the survival for patients with primary cancers is improving, the ability to prevent metastatic cancer has not. Once patients develop metastases, their prognosis is dismal. A critical step in metastasis is the transit of cancer cells in the circulatory system. In this hostile microenvironment, variations in pressure and flow can change cellular behavior. However, the effects that circulation has on cancer cells and the metastatic process remain unclear. To further understand this process, we engineered a closed-loop fluidic system to analyze molecular changes induced by variations in flow rate and pressure on primary tumor-derived lung adenocarcinoma cells. We found that cancer cells overexpress epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition markers TWIST1 and SNAI2, as well as stem-like marker CD44 (but not CD133, SOX2 and/or NANOG). Moreover, these cells display a fourfold increased percentage of side population cells and have an increased propensity for migration. In vivo, surviving circulatory cells lead to decreased survival in rodents. These results suggest that cancer cells that express a specific circulatory transition phenotype and are enriched in side population cells are able to survive prolonged circulatory stress and lead to increased metastatic disease and shorter survival.
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