Clinical & Experimental Metastasis

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 273–292 | Cite as

Dormant but migratory tumour cells in desmoplastic stroma of invasive ductal carcinomas

  • Vanisri Raviraj
  • Hui Zhang
  • Hsin-ya Chien
  • Louise Cole
  • Erik W. Thompson
  • Lilian SoonEmail author
Research Paper


Mortality in breast cancer is linked to metastasis and recurrence yet there is no acceptable biological model for cancer relapse. We hypothesise that there might exist primary tumour cells capable of escaping surgery by migration and resisting radiotherapy and chemotherapy to cause cancer recurrence. We investigated this possibility in invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) tissue and observed the presence of solitary primary tumour cells (SPCs) in the dense collagen stroma that encapsulates intratumoural cells (ICs). In IDC tissue sections, collagen was detected with either Masson’s Trichrome or by second harmonics imaging. Cytokeratin-19 (CK-19) and vimentin (VIM) antibodies were, respectively, used to identify epithelial-derived tumour cells and to indicate epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). Confocal/multiphoton microscopy showed that ICs from acini were mainly CK-19+ve and were encapsulated by dense stromal collagen. Within the stroma, SPCs were detected by their staining for both CK-19 and VIM (confirming EMT). ICs and SPCs were subsequently isolated by laser capture microdissection followed by multiplex tandem-PCR studies. SPCs were found to be enriched for pro-migratory and anti-proliferative genes relative to ICs. In vitro experiments using collagen matrices at 20 mg/cm3, similar in density to tumour matrices, demonstrated that SPC-like cells were highly migratory but dormant, phenotypes that recapitulated the genotypes of SPCs in clinical tissue. These data suggest that SPCs located at the breast cancer perimeter are invasive and dormant such that they may exceed surgical margins and resist local and adjuvant therapies. This study has important connotations for a role of SPCs in local recurrence.


Breast cancer Single cell dormancy Cell migration Dense stroma Tumour microenvironment Laser capture microdissection 



Breast cancer




Circulating tumour cells


Ductal carcinoma in situ


Disseminated tumour cells


Epithelial mesenchymal transition




Intratumoural cells


Invasive ductal carcinoma


Laser capture microdissection


Multiplexed tandem-PCR


Solitary primary tumour cells





This work was supported by National Health and Medical Research Council (#402510 and #571200), Australian Research Council (#DP0881012) and Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium. We gratefully acknowledge AMMRF, ACMM, Sydney, Australia for use of the facility and Ms Ellie Kable, Dr Renee Whan, Mr Vivek Ravichandran and Mr Dennis Dwarte for their kind assistance. We thank Prof. John Condeelis for kindly providing the MTLn3 cells and Assoc. Prof. Prue Hill, St. Vincent’s Pathology, Melbourne, for assistance with histopathological assessments of tissues.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10585_2011_9450_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 2055 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vanisri Raviraj
    • 1
  • Hui Zhang
    • 1
  • Hsin-ya Chien
    • 1
  • Louise Cole
    • 2
  • Erik W. Thompson
    • 3
  • Lilian Soon
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis (ACMM), AMMRF, The University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Advanced Microscopy Facility, Bosch Institute, The University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of SurgeryInvasion and Metastasis Unit, St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research and University of Melbourne, St Vincent’s HospitalMelbourneAustralia

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