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Homogeneous pancreatic cancer spheroids mimic growth pattern of circulating tumor cell clusters and macrometastases: displaying heterogeneity and crater-like structure on inner layer

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Abstract

Purpose

Pancreatic cancer 3D in vitro models including multicellular tumor spheroid (MCTS), single cell-derived tumor spheroid (SCTS), tissue-derived tumor spheroid, and organotypic models provided powerful platforms to mimic in vivo tumor. Recent work supports that circulating tumor cell (CTC) clusters are more efficient in metastasis seeding than single CTCs. The purpose of this study is to establish 3D culture models which can mimic single CTC, monoclonal CTC clusters, and the expansion of macrometastases.

Methods

Seven pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cell lines were used to establish MCTS and SCTS using hanging drop and ultra-low attachment plates. Spheroid immunofluorescence staining, spheroid formation assay, immunoblotting, and literature review were performed to investigate molecular biomarkers and the morphological characteristics of pancreatic tumor spheroids.

Results

Single cells experienced different growth patterns to form SCTS, like signet ring-like cells, blastula-like structures, and solid core spheroids. However, golf ball-like hollow spheroids could also be detected, especially when DanG and Capan-1 cells were cultivated with fibroblast-conditioned medium (p < 0.05). The size of golf ball-like hollow spheroids hardly grew after getting matured. Only DanG and Capan-1 could establish SCTS- and MCTS-derived hollow spheroids using hanging drop plates and ultra-low attachment plates. Other PDA cell lines could also establish tumor spheroid with hanging drop plates by adding methylated cellulose. Tumor spheroids derived from pancreatic cancer cell line DanG possessed asymmetrically distributed proliferation center, immune-checkpoint properties. ß-catenin, Ki-67, and F-actin were active surrounding the crater-like structure distributing on the inner layer of viable rim cover of the spheroids, which was relevant to well-differentiated tumor cells.

Conclusions

It is possible to establish 3D CTC cluster models from homogenous PDA cell lines using hanging drop and ultra-low attachment plates. PDA cell line displays its own intrinsic properties or heterogeneity. The mechanism of formation of the crater-like structure as well as golf ball-like structure needs further exploration.

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Change history

  • 16 June 2017

    An erratum to this article has been published.

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Acknowledgements

The study was supported by China Scholarship Council (201306230127). The authors would like to thank for the platform support of University Hospital of LMU Munich for the preliminary experiments.

Author information

Correspondence to Hao Feng or Wolfgang E. Thasler.

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There is no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

An erratum to this article is available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s00432-017-2456-9.

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Feng, H., Ou, B., Zhao, J. et al. Homogeneous pancreatic cancer spheroids mimic growth pattern of circulating tumor cell clusters and macrometastases: displaying heterogeneity and crater-like structure on inner layer. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol 143, 1771–1786 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00432-017-2434-2

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Keywords

  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Tumor spheroid
  • Heterogeneity
  • Differentiation
  • Circulating tumor cell