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Clonal cooperation through soluble metabolite exchange facilitates metastatic outgrowth by modulating Allee effect

et al. Benjamin J. Hershey

Science Advances


Cancers feature substantial intratumoral heterogeneity of genetic and phenotypically distinct lineages. Although interactions between coexisting lineages are emerging as a potential contributor to tumor evolution, the extent and nature of these interactions remain largely unknown.

We postulated that tumors develop ecological interactions that sustain diversity and facilitate metastasis. Using a combination of fluorescent barcoding, mathematical modeling, metabolic analysis, and in vivo models, we show that the Allee effect, i.e., growth dependency on population size, is a feature of tumor lineages and that cooperative ecological interactions between lineages alleviate the Allee barriers to growth in a model of triple-negative breast cancer.

Soluble metabolite exchange formed the basis for these cooperative interactions and catalyzed the establishment of a polyclonal community that displayed enhanced metastatic dissemination and outgrowth in xenograft models.

Our results highlight interclonal metabolite exchange as a key modulator of tumor ecology and a contributing factor to overcoming Allee effect–associated growth barriers to metastasis.


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