Melanoma brain colonization involves the emergence of a brain-adaptive phenotype

Vigdis Nygaard1, Lina Prasmickaite1, Kotryna Vasiliauskaite1, Trevor Clancy1 and Eivind Hovig1

1 Department of Tumor Biology, Institute for Cancer Research, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.


Vigdis Nygaard, email:

Keywords: brain metastasis, melanoma plasticity, glutamate signaling

Received: December 23, 2013 Accepted: January 9, 2014 Published: January 10, 2014


The brain offers a unique microenvironment that plays an important role in the establishment and progression of metastasis. However, the molecular determinants that promote development of melanoma brain metastases are largely unknown. Utilizing two species of immune-compromised animals, with in vivo cultivated metastatic tissues along with their corresponding host tissues in a metastasis model, we here identify molecular events associated with melanoma brain metastases. We find that the transcriptional changes in the melanoma cells, as induced by the brain-microenvironment in both host species, reveal the opportunistic nature of melanoma in this biological context in rewiring the molecular framework of key molecular players with their associated biological processes. Specifically, we identify the existence of a neuron-like melanoma phenotype, which includes synaptic characteristics and a neurotransmission-like circuit involving glutamate. Regulation of gene transcription and neuron-like plasticity by Ca2+-dependent signaling appear to occur through glutamate receptor activation. The brain-adaptive phenotype was found as more prominent in the early metastatic growth phases compared to a later phase, emphasizing a temporal requirement of critical events in the successful colonization of the brain. Analysis of the host tissue uncovered a cooperative inflammatory microenvironment formed by activated host cells that permitted melanoma growth at the expense of the host organism. Combined experimental and computational approaches clearly highlighted genes and signaling pathways being shared with neurodegenerative diseases. Importantly, the identification of essential molecular networks that operate to promote the brain-adaptive phenotype is of clinical relevance, as they represent leads to urgently needed therapeutic targets.

PII: 11