Alterations in Pericyte Subpopulations Are Associated with Elevated Blood-Tumor Barrier Permeability in Experimental Brain Metastasis of Breast Cancer

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Purpose—The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is modified to a blood-tumor barrier (BTB) as a brain metastasis develops from breast or other cancers. We (a) quantified the permeability of experimental brain metastases; (b) determined the composition of the BTB; (c) identified which elements of the BTB distinguished metastases of lower permeability from those with higher permeability. Experimental Design—A SUM190-BR3 experimental inflammatory breast cancer brain metastasis subline was established. Experimental brain metastases from this model system and two previously reported models (triple-negative MDA-231-BR6, HER2+ JIMT-1-BR3) were serially sectioned; low and high permeability lesions were identified with systemic 3kDa Texas Red dextran dye. Adjoining sections were used for quantitative immunofluorescence to known BBB and neuroinflammatory components. One-sample comparisons against a hypothesized value of one were performed with the Wilcoxon signed-rank test.Results—When uninvolved brain was compared to any brain metastasis, alterations in endothelial, pericytic, astrocytic, and microglial components were observed. When metastases with relatively low- and high permeability were compared, increased expression of a desmin+ subpopulation of pericytes was associated with higher permeability (231-BR6 p=0.0002; JIMT-1- BR3 p=0.004; SUM190-BR3 p=0.008); desmin+ pericytes were also identified in human craniotomy specimens. Trends of reduced CD13+ pericytes (231-BR6 p=0.014; JIMT-1-BR3 p=0.002, SUM190-BR3, NS) and laminin α2 (231-BR6 p=0.001; JIMT-1-BR3 p=0.049; SUM190-BR3 p=0.023) were also observed with increased permeability. Conclusions—We provide the first account of the composition of the BTB in experimental brain metastasis. Desmin+ pericytes and laminin α2 are potential targets for the development of novel approaches to increase chemotherapeutic efficacy.