Disseminated tumors cells (DTCs) present in the bone marrow (BM) are believed to be the progenitors of distant metastatic spread, a major cause of mortality in breast cancer patients. To better understand the behavior and therapeutic vulnerabilities of these rare cell populations, unbiased methods for selective cell enrichment are required. In this study, we have evaluated a microfluidic-based filtration system (ParsortixR, Angle PLC), previously demonstrated for use in circulating tumor cell (CTC) capture, to capture BM DTCs. Performance using BM samples was also compared directly to enrichment of CTCs in the peripheral blood (PB) from both metastatic and non-metastatic breast cancer patients. Although the non-specific capture of BM immune cells was significant, the device could routinely achieve significant cytoreduction of BM and PB WBCs and at least 1,000-fold enrichment of DTCs, based on labeled tumor cell spike-in experiments. Detection of previously characterized DTC-associated gene expression biomarkers was greatly enhanced by the enrichment method, as demonstrated by droplet digital PCR assay. Cells eluted from the device were viable and suitable for single cell RNA sequencing experiments. DTCs in enriched BM samples comprised up to 5% of the total cell population, allowing for effective single cell and population- based transcriptional profiling of these rare cells. Use of the Parsortix instrument will be an effective approach to enrich for rare BM DTCs in order to better understand their diverse molecular phenotypes and develop approaches to eradicate these cells to prevent distant disease development in breast cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0246139
JournalPloS one
Issue number5 May
StatePublished - May 2021


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