The evolutionary history of lethal metastatic prostate cancer

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Abstract

Cancers emerge from an ongoing Darwinian evolutionary process, often leading to multiple competing subclones within a single primary tumour1,2,3,4. This evolutionary process culminates in the formation of metastases, which is the cause of 90% of cancer-related deaths5. However, despite its clinical importance, little is known about the principles governing the dissemination of cancer cells to distant organs. Although the hypothesis that each metastasis originates from a single tumour cell is generally supported6,7,8, recent studies using mouse models of cancer demonstrated the existence of polyclonal seeding from and interclonal cooperation between multiple subclones9,10. Here we sought definitive evidence for the existence of polyclonal seeding in human malignancy and to establish the clonal relationship among different metastases in the context of androgen-deprived metastatic prostate cancer. Using whole-genome sequencing, we characterized multiple metastases arising from prostate tumours in ten patients. Integrated analyses of subclonal architecture revealed the patterns of metastatic spread in unprecedented detail. Metastasis-to-metastasis spread was found to be common, either throughde novomonoclonal seeding of daughter metastases or, in five cases, through the transfer of multiple tumour clones between metastatic sites. Lesions affecting tumour suppressor genes usually occur as single events, whereas mutations in genes involved in androgen receptor signalling commonly involve multiple, convergent events in different metastases. Our results elucidate in detail the complex patterns of metastatic spread and further our understanding of the development of resistance to androgen-deprivation therapy in prostate cancer.

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