Br J Cancer 2021 Jan

Background: Tumour acidosis is considered to play a central role in promoting cancer invasion and migration, but few studies have investigated in vivo how tumour pH correlates with cancer invasion. This study aims to determine in vivo whether tumour acidity is associated with cancer metastatic potential.

Methods: Breast cancer cell lines with different metastatic potentials have been characterised for several markers of aggressiveness and invasiveness. Murine tumour models have been developed and assessed for lung metastases and tumour acidosis has been assessed in vivo by a magnetic resonance imaging-based chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) pH imaging approach.

Results: The higher metastatic potential of 4T1 and TS/A primary tumours, in comparison to the less aggressive TUBO and BALB-neuT ones, was confirmed by the highest expression of cancer cell stem markers (CD44+CD24), highlighting their propensity to migrate and invade, coinciding with the measurement obtained by in vitro assays. MRI-CEST pH imaging successfully discriminated the more aggressive 4T1 and TS/A tumours that displayed a more acidic pH. Moreover, the observed higher tumour acidity was significantly correlated with an increased number of lung metastases.

Conclusions: The findings of this study indicate that the extracellular acidification is associated with the metastatic potential.