Mumenthaler SM, Foo J, Choi NC, Heise N, Leder K, Agus DB, Pao W, Michor F, Mallick P. 2015. The Impact of Microenvironmental Heterogeneity on the Evolution of Drug Resistance in Cancer Cells. Cancer informatics. 14(Suppl 4):19-31. Pubmed: 26244007 DOI:10.4137/CIN.S19338


Therapeutic resistance arises as a result of evolutionary processes driven by dynamic feedback between a heterogeneous cell population and environmental selective pressures. Previous studies have suggested that mutations conferring resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells lower the fitness of resistant cells relative to drug-sensitive cells in a drug-free environment. Here, we hypothesize that the local tumor microenvironment could influence the magnitude and directionality of the selective effect, both in the presence and absence of a drug. Using a combined experimental and computational approach, we developed a mathematical model of preexisting drug resistance describing multiple cellular compartments, each representing a specific tumor environmental niche. This model was parameterized using a novel experimental dataset derived from the HCC827 erlotinib-sensitive and -resistant NSCLC cell lines. We found that, in contrast to in the drug-free environment, resistant cells may hold a fitness advantage compared to parental cells in microenvironments deficient in oxygen and nutrients. We then utilized the model to predict the impact of drug and nutrient gradients on tumor composition and recurrence times, demonstrating that these endpoints are strongly dependent on the microenvironment. Our interdisciplinary approach provides a model system to quantitatively investigate the impact of microenvironmental effects on the evolutionary dynamics of tumor cells.

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Franziska Michor uses the tools of theoretical evolutionary biology, applied mathematics, statistics, and computational biology to address important questions in cancer research.

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