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Cancer Cell-derived Exosomes Induce Mitogen-activated Protein Kinase-dependent Monocyte Survival by Transport of Functional Receptor Tyrosine Kinases

Tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) play pivotal roles in cancer initiation and progression. Monocytes, the precursors of TAMs, normally undergo spontaneous apoptosis within 2 days, but can subsist in the inflammatory tumor microenvironment for continuous survival and generation of sufficient TAMs. The mechanisms underlying tumor-driving monocyte survival remain obscure. Here we report that cancer cell-derived exosomes were crucial mediators for monocyte survival in the inflammatory niche. Analysis of the survival-promoting molecules in monocytes revealed that cancer cell-derived exosomes activated Ras and extracellular signal-regulated kinases in the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, resulting in the prevention of caspase cleavage. Phosphorylated receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), such as phosphorylated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2), were abundantly expressed in cancer cell-derived exosomes. Knock-out of EGFR or/and HER-2, or alternatively, inhibitors against their phosphorylation significantly disturbed the exosome-mediated activation of the MAPK pathway, inhibition of caspase cleavage, and increase in survival rate in monocytes. Moreover, the deprived survival-stimulating activity of exosomes due to null expression of EGFR and HER-2 could be restored by activation of another RTK, insulin receptor. Overall, our study uncovered a mechanism of tumor-associated monocyte survival and demonstrated that cancer cell-derived exosomes can stimulate the MAPK pathway in monocytes through transport of functional RTKs, leading to inactivation of apoptosis-related caspases. This work provides insights into the long sought question on monocyte survival prior to formation of plentiful TAMs in the tumor microenvironment.

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