Ovarian cancer (OvCa) metastasizes to organs in the abdominal cavity, such as the omentum, which are covered by a single layer of mesothelial cells. Mesothelial cells are generally thought to be "bystanders" to the metastatic process and simply displaced by OvCa cells to access the submesothelial extracellular matrix. Here, using organotypic 3D cultures, we found that primary human mesothelial cells secrete fbronectin in the presence of OvCa cells. Moreover, we evaluated the tumor stroma of 108 human omental metastases and determined that fbronectin was consistently overexpressed in these patients. Blocking fbronectin production in primary mesothelial cells in vitro or in murine models, either genetically (fbronectin 1 foxed mouse model) or via siRNA, decreased adhesion, invasion, proliferation, and metastasis of OvCa cells. Using a coculture model, we determined that OvCa cells secrete TGF-β1, which in turn activates a TGF-β receptor/RAC1/SMAD-dependent signaling pathway in the mesothelial cells that promotes a mesenchymal phenotype and transcriptional upregulation of fbronectin. Additionally, blocking α5 or β1 integrin function with antibodies reduced metastasis in an orthotopic preclinical model of OvCa metastasis. These findings indicate that cancer-associated mesothelial cells promote colonization during the initial steps of OvCa metastasis and suggest that mesothelial cells actively contribute to metastasis.
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