Metastatic tumors are a major source of morbidity and mortality for most cancers. Interaction of circulating tumor cells with endothelium, platelets and neutrophils play an important role in the early stages of metastasis formation. These complex dynamics have proven difficult to study in experimental models. Prior computational models of metastases have focused on tumor cell growth in a host environment, or prediction of metastasis formation from clinical data. We used agent-based modeling (ABM) to dynamically represent hypotheses of essential steps involved in circulating tumor cell adhesion and interaction with other circulating cells, examine their functional constraints, and predict effects of inhibiting specific mechanisms.
We developed an ABM of Early Metastasis (ABMEM), a descriptive semi-mechanistic model that replicates experimentally observed behaviors of populations of circulating tumor cells, neutrophils, platelets and endothelial cells while incorporating representations of known surface receptor, autocrine and paracrine interactions. Essential downstream cellular processes were incorporated to simulate activation in response to stimuli, and calibrated with experimental data. The ABMEM was used to identify potential points of interdiction through examination of dynamic outcomes such as rate of tumor cell binding after inhibition of specific platelet or tumor receptors.
The ABMEM reproduced experimental data concerning neutrophil rolling over endothelial cells, inflammation-induced binding between neutrophils and platelets, and tumor cell interactions with these cells. Simulated platelet inhibition with anti-platelet drugs produced unstable aggregates with frequent detachment and re-binding. The ABMEM replicates findings from experimental models of circulating tumor cell adhesion, and suggests platelets play a critical role in this pre-requisite for metastasis formation. Similar effects were observed with inhibition of tumor integrin αV/β3. These findings suggest that anti-platelet or anti-integrin therapies may decrease metastasis by preventing stable circulating tumor cell adhesion.
Circulating tumor cell adhesion is a complex, dynamic process involving multiple cell-cell interactions. The ABMEM successfully captures the essential interactions necessary for this process, and allows for in-silico iterative characterization and invalidation of proposed hypotheses regarding this process in conjunction with in-vitro and in-vivo models. Our results suggest that anti-platelet therapies and anti-integrin therapies may play a promising role in inhibiting metastasis formation.