Tumor microenvironment of metastasis (TMEM) doorways are restricted to the blood vessel endothelium in both primary breast cancers and their lymph node metastases

Paula S. Ginter, George S. Karagiannis, David Entenberg, Yu Lin, John Condeelis, Joan G. Jones, Maja H. Oktay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Cancer cells metastasize from primary tumors to regional lymph nodes and distant sites via the lymphatic and blood vascular systems, respectively. Our prior work has demonstrated that in primary breast tumors, cancer cells utilize a three-cell complex (known as tumor microenvironment of metastasis, or TMEM) composed of a perivascular macrophage, a tumor cell expressing high levels of the actin-regulatory protein mammalian enabled (Mena), and an endothelial cell as functional “doorways” for hematogenous dissemination. Here, we studied a well-annotated case–control cohort of human invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast and metastatic lymph nodes from a separate breast cancer cohort. We demonstrate that in primary breast tumors, blood vessels are always present within tumor cell nests (TCNs) and tumor-associated stroma (TAS), while lymphatic vessels are only occasionally present in TCN and TAS. Furthermore, TMEM doorways not only exist in primary tumors as previously reported but also in lymph node metastases. In addition, we show that TMEM intravasation doorways are restricted to the blood vascular endothelium in both primary tumors and lymph node metastases, suggesting that breast cancer dissemination to distant sites from both primary tumors and metastatic foci in lymph nodes occurs hematogenously at TMEM doorways. TMEMs are very rarely detected at lymphatic vessels and do not confer clinical prognostic significance, indicating they are not participants in TMEM-associated hematogenous dissemination. These findings are consistent with recent observations that hematogenous dissemination from lymph nodes occurs via blood vessels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1507
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019



  • Blood vessel
  • Breast cancer
  • Lymph node
  • Lymphatic vessel
  • Tumor microenvironment of metastasis (TMEM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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