RNA-Seq of single prostate CTCs implicates noncanonical Wnt signaling in antiandrogen resistance

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Science  18 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6254, pp. 1351-1356
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0917

Circulating signals of drug resistance

Cancer drugs often lose their effectiveness because tumors acquire genetic changes that confer drug resistance. Ideally, patients would be switched to a different drug before tumor growth resumes, but this requires early knowledge of how resistance arose. Miyamoto et al. have developed a non-invasive method to spot resistance by sequencing RNA transcripts in single circulating tumor cells (CTCs) (see the Perspective by Nanus and Giannakakou). For example, in prostate cancer patients, drug resistance was triggered by activation of the Wnt signaling pathway. But CTCs are rare and fragile, and the technology needs further development before it is used in clinical practice.

Science, this issue p. 1351; see also p. 1283


Prostate cancer is initially responsive to androgen deprivation, but the effectiveness of androgen receptor (AR) inhibitors in recurrent disease is variable. Biopsy of bone metastases is challenging; hence, sampling circulating tumor cells (CTCs) may reveal drug-resistance mechanisms. We established single-cell RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) profiles of 77 intact CTCs isolated from 13 patients (mean six CTCs per patient), by using microfluidic enrichment. Single CTCs from each individual display considerable heterogeneity, including expression of AR gene mutations and splicing variants. Retrospective analysis of CTCs from patients progressing under treatment with an AR inhibitor, compared with untreated cases, indicates activation of noncanonical Wnt signaling (P = 0.0064). Ectopic expression of Wnt5a in prostate cancer cells attenuates the antiproliferative effect of AR inhibition, whereas its suppression in drug-resistant cells restores partial sensitivity, a correlation also evident in an established mouse model. Thus, single-cell analysis of prostate CTCs reveals heterogeneity in signaling pathways that could contribute to treatment failure.

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