Theranostics 2022; 12(2):620-638. doi:10.7150/thno.60540 This issue

Research Paper

Single-cell RNA sequencing reveals a pro-invasive cancer-associated fibroblast subgroup associated with poor clinical outcomes in patients with gastric cancer

Xuechun Li1#, Zhao Sun2#, Gongxin Peng3#, Yi Xiao4, Junchao Guo4, Bin Wu4, Xiaoyi Li4, Weixun Zhou5, Jiarui Li2, Zhe Li6, Chunmei Bai2, Lin Zhao2✉, Qin Han1✉, Robert Chunhua Zhao1,7✉, Xiaoyue Wang3✉

1. Institute of Basic Medical Sciences Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, School of Basic Medicine Peking Union Medical College, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Center of Excellence in Tissue Engineering Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing Key Laboratory (No. BZO381), Beijing, People's Republic of China.
2. Department of Medical Oncology, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China.
3. Center for Bioinformatics, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, School of Basic Medicine, Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, 100005, China.
4. Department of General Surgery, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China
5. Department of Pathology, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China
6. Department of Gynecologic Oncology, National Cancer Center/ National Clinical Research Center for Cancer/Cancer Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China
7. School of Life Sciences, Shanghai University, 99 Shangda Road, Shanghai 200444, China
# Xuechun Li, Zhao Sun and Gongxin Peng contributed equally to this work.

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Citation:
Li X, Sun Z, Peng G, Xiao Y, Guo J, Wu B, Li X, Zhou W, Li J, Li Z, Bai C, Zhao L, Han Q, Zhao RC, Wang X. Single-cell RNA sequencing reveals a pro-invasive cancer-associated fibroblast subgroup associated with poor clinical outcomes in patients with gastric cancer. Theranostics 2022; 12(2):620-638. doi:10.7150/thno.60540. Available from https://www.thno.org/v12p0620.htm

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Abstract

Graphic abstract

Background: The protumor activities of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) suggest that they are potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of cancer. The mechanism of CAF heterogeneity in gastric cancer (GC) remains unclear and has slowed translational advances in targeting CAFs. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the classification, function, activation stage, and spatial distribution of the CAF subsets in GC is urgently needed.

Methods: In this study, the characteristics of the CAF subsets and the dynamic communication among the tumor microenvironment (TME) components regulated by the CAF subsets were analyzed by performing single-cell RNA sequencing of eight pairs of GC and adjacent mucosal (AM) samples. The spatial distribution of the CAF subsets in different Lauren subtypes of GC, as well as the neighborhood relations between these CAF subsets and the protumor immune cell subsets were evaluated by performing multistaining registration.

Results: Tumor epithelial cells exhibited significant intratumor and intertumor variabilities, while CAFs mainly exhibited intratumor variability. Moreover, we identified four CAF subsets with different properties in GC. These four CAF subsets shared similar properties with their resident fibroblast counterparts in the adjacent mucosa but also exhibited enhanced protumor activities. Additionally, two CAF subsets, inflammatory CAFs (iCAFs) and extracellular matrix CAFs (eCAFs), communicated with adjacent immune cell subsets in the GC TME. iCAFs interacted with T cells by secreting interleukin (IL)-6 and C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 12 (CXCL12), while eCAFs correlated with M2 macrophages via the expression of periostin (POSTN). eCAFs, which function as a pro-invasive CAF subset, decreased the overall survival time of patients with GC.

Conclusions: iCAFs and eCAFs not only exhibited enhanced pro-invasive activities but also mobilized the surrounding immune cells to construct a tumor-favorable microenvironment. Therefore, inhibiting their activation restrains the GC 'seed' and simultaneously improves the 'GC' soil, suggesting that it represents a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of GC.

Keywords: Gastric cancer, Tumor microenvironment, CAF heterogeneity, iCAF, eCAF, scRNA-Seq, Multistaining registration