Despite its clinical importance, very little is known about the natural history and molecular underpinnings of lung cancer dissemination and metastasis. Here, we used a genetically engineered mouse model of metastatic lung adenocarcinoma in which cancer cells are fluorescently marked to determine whether dissemination is an inherent ability or a major acquired phenotype during lung adenocarcinoma metastasis. We find very little evidence for dissemination from oncogenic KRAS-driven hyperplasias or most adenocarcinomas. p53 loss is insufficient to drive dissemination but rather enables rare cancer cells in a small fraction of primary adenocarcinomas to gain alterations that drive dissemination. Molecular characterization of disseminated tumor cells indicates that downregulation of the transcription factor Nkx2-1 precedes dissemination. Finally, we show that metastatic primary tumors possess a highly proliferative subpopulation of cells with characteristics matching those of disseminating cells. We propose that dissemination is a major hurdle during the natural course of lung adenocarcinoma metastasis.
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