The Cancer Cell Dissemination Machinery as an Immunosuppressive Niche: A New Obstacle Towards the Era of Cancer Immunotherapy

Saeed Asiry, Gina Kim, Panagiota S. Filippou, Luis Rivera Sanchez, David Entenberg, Douglas K. Marks, Maja H. Oktay, George S. Karagiannis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Although cancer immunotherapy has resulted in unpreceded survival benefits to subsets of oncology patients, accumulating evidence from preclinical animal models suggests that the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment remains a detrimental factor limiting benefit for many patient subgroups. Recent efforts on lymphocyte-mediated immunotherapies are primarily focused on eliminating cancer foci at primary and metastatic sites, but few studies have investigated the impact of these therapies on the highly complex process of cancer cell dissemination. The metastatic cascade involves the directional streaming of invasive/migratory tumor cells toward specialized blood vessel intravasation gateways, called TMEM doorways, to the peripheral circulation. Importantly, this process occurs under the auspices of a specialized tumor microenvironment, herewith referred to as “Dissemination Trajectory”, which is supported by an ample array of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs), skewed towards an M2-like polarization spectrum, and which is also vital for providing microenvironmental cues for cancer cell invasion, migration and stemness. Based on pre-existing evidence from preclinical animal models, this article outlines the hypothesis that dissemination trajectories do not only support the metastatic cascade, but also embody immunosuppressive niches, capable of providing transient and localized immunosubversion cues to the migratory/invasive cancer cell subpopulation while in the act of departing from a primary tumor. So long as these dissemination trajectories function as “immune deserts”, the migratory tumor cell subpopulation remains efficient in evading immunological destruction and seeding metastatic sites, despite administration of cancer immunotherapy and/or other cytotoxic treatments. A deeper understanding of the molecular and cellular composition, as well as the signaling circuitries governing the function of these dissemination trajectories will further our overall understanding on TAM-mediated immunosuppression and will be paramount for the development of new therapeutic strategies for the advancement of optimal cancer chemotherapies, immunotherapies, and targeted therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number654877
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Apr 13 2021


  • T cells
  • cancer immunotherapy
  • endothelial anergy
  • lymphocyte exclusion
  • lymphocyte exhaustion
  • macrophages
  • metastasis
  • tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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