Lymph node blood vessels provide exit routes for metastatic tumor cell dissemination in mice

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During metastasis, malignant cells escape the primary tumor, intravasate lymphatic vessels, and reach draining sentinel lymph nodes before they colonize distant organs via the blood circulation. Although lymph node metastasis in cancer patients correlates with poor prognosis, evidence is lacking as to whether and how tumor cells enter the bloodstream via lymph nodes. To investigate this question, we delivered carcinoma cells into the lymph nodes of mice by microinfusing the cells into afferent lymphatic vessels. We found that tumor cells rapidly infiltrated the lymph node parenchyma, invaded blood vessels, and seeded lung metastases without involvement of the thoracic duct. These results suggest that the lymph node blood vessels can serve as an exit route for systemic dissemination of cancer cells in experimental mouse models. Whether this form of tumor cell spreading occurs in cancer patients remains to be determined.

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