Single-cell micro-metastases of solid tumors often occur in the bone marrow. These disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) may resist therapy and lay dormant or progress to cause overt bone and visceral metastases. The molecular nature of DTCs remains elusive, as well as when and from where in the tumor they originate. Here, we apply single-cell sequencing to identify and trace the origin of DTCs in breast cancer.
We sequence the genomes of 63 single cells isolated from six non-metastatic breast cancer patients. By comparing the cells DNA copy number aberration (CNA) landscapes with those of the primary tumors and lymph node metastasis, we establish that 53% of the single cells morphologically classified as tumor cells are DTCs disseminating from the observed tumor. The remaining cells represent either non-aberrant ‘normal’ cells or aberrant cells of unknown origin that have CNA landscapes discordant from the tumor. Further analyses suggest that the prevalence of aberrant cells of unknown origin is age-dependent, and that at least a subset is hematopoietic in ... (Show More)