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Remodeling of the Lymph Node High Endothelial Venules Reflects Tumor Invasiveness in Breast Cancer and is Associated with Dysregulation of Perivascular Stromal Cells

Authors: Bekkhus, Tove; Martikainen, Teemu; Olofsson, Anna; Franzén Boger, Mathias; Vasiliu Bacovia, Daniel; Wärnberg, Fredrik; Ulvmar, Maria H.

Online: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6694/13/2/211

Issue: Cancers (Basel) . 2021 Jan 8;13(2):211.


The tumor-draining lymph nodes (TDLNs) are primary sites for induction of tumor immunity. They are also common sites of metastasis, suggesting that tumor-induced mechanisms can subvert anti-tumor immune responses and promote metastatic seeding. The high endothelial venules (HEVs) together with CCL21-expressing fibroblastic reticular cells (FRCs) are essential for lymphocyte recruitment into the LNs. We established multicolor antibody panels for evaluation of HEVs and FRCs in TDLNs from breast cancer (BC) patients. Our data show that patients with invasive BC display extensive structural and molecular remodeling of the HEVs, including vessel dilation, thinning of the endothelium and discontinuous expression of the HEV-marker PNAd. Remodeling of the HEVs was associated with dysregulation of CCL21 in perivascular FRCs and with accumulation of CCL21-saturated lymphocytes, which we link to loss of CCL21-binding heparan sulfate in FRCs. These changes were rare or absent in LNs from patients with non-invasive BC and cancer-free organ donors and were observed independent of nodal metastasis. Thus, pre-metastatic dysregulation of core stromal and vascular functions within TDLNs reflect the primary tumor invasiveness in BC. This adds to the understanding of cancer-induced perturbation of the immune response and opens for prospects of vascular and stromal changes in TDLNs as potential biomarkers.