Collagen production and niche engineering: A novel strategy for cancer cells to survive acidosis in DCIS and evolve

Mehdi Damaghi, Hidetoshi Mori, Samantha Byrne, Liping Xu, Tingan Chen, Joseph Johnson, Nathan D. Gallant, Andriy Marusyk, Alexander D. Borowsky, Robert J. Gillies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Growing tumors are dynamic and nonlinear ecosystems, wherein cancer cells adapt to their local microenvironment, and these adaptations further modify the environment, inducing more changes. From nascent intraductal neoplasms to disseminated metastatic disease, several levels of evolutionary adaptations and selections occur. Here, we focus on one example of such an adaptation mechanism, namely, “niche construction” promoted by adaptation to acidosis, which is a metabolic adaptation to the early harsh environment in intraductal neoplasms. The avascular characteristics of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) make the periluminal volume profoundly acidic, and cancer cells must adapt to this to survive. Based on discovery proteomics, we hypothesized that a component of acid adaptation involves production of collagen by pre-cancer cells that remodels the extracellular matrix (ECM) and stabilizes cells under acid stress. The proteomic data were surprising as collagen production and deposition are commonly believed to be the responsibility of mesenchymally derived fibroblasts, and not cells of epithelial origin. Subsequent experiments in 3D culture, spinning disk and second harmonic generation microscopy of DCIS lesions in patients’ samples are concordant. Collagen production assay by acid-adapted cells in vitro demonstrated that the mechanism of induction involves the RAS and SMAD pathways. Secretome analyses show upregulation of ECM remodeling enzymes such as TGM2 and LOXL2 that are collagen crosslinkers. These data strongly indicate that acidosis in incipient cancers induces collagen production by cancer cells and support the hypothesis that this adaptation initiates a tumor-permissive microenvironment promoting survival and growth of nascent cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2689-2703
Number of pages15
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • anoikis
  • cancer evolution
  • collagen production
  • extracellular matrix remodeling enzymes
  • K-RAS
  • Niche construction and engineering
  • SMAD
  • tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Collagen production and niche engineering: A novel strategy for cancer cells to survive acidosis in DCIS and evolve'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this