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Keywords:

  • 3D reconstruction;
  • basement membrane;
  • Glisson's capsule;
  • metastasis;
  • stroma

Resection of liver metastases in patients with colon cancer increases survival but success depends on removal of all tumour tissue. For this purpose, understanding of spatial relationships between metastases and liver architecture is essential. Because metastatic cancer growth is essentially a three-dimensional (3D) event, we decided to apply 3D reconstruction techniques to study these spatial relationships between metastases and liver structures such as blood vessels, stroma and the liver capsule (Glisson’s capsule). Colon carcinoma metastases were experimentally induced in rat liver by injection of colon cancer cells (CC531) into the portal vein. Three weeks later, livers from these animals and control livers were removed and immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen. Thirty-seven to 110 consecutive sections were used for each 3D reconstruction of 26 metastases in eight livers. Contours of different structures were stained by (immuno)histochemical means, traced in each section and stored in a database. From the contour model, a volume model was generated. Among the 26 metastases, seven were found to grow distantly from the liver capsule. They were small and consisted of well-differentiated cancer cells that were totally surrounded by a basement membrane and stroma which was always connected with adjacent blood vessels of a portal tract. The remaining 19 metastases showed a more advanced pattern of development. Infiltration of poorly differentiated colon cancer cells progressed through the stroma at various sites and areas of direct contact between cancer cells and hepatocytes were frequently found. This type of outgrowth of cancer cells was only found when metastases had made contact with the liver capsule. However, some areas in sections of these advanced stages still resembled small metastases. On the basis of these findings, we conclude that stroma affects the differentiation pattern of cancer cells and has at least a dual role in tumour growth. On the one hand it limits invasion of cancer cells in the surrounding host tissue. On the other hand, stroma formation at the capsule, which consists mainly of granulation tissue, facilitates outgrowth of the tumours. Furthermore, our 3D reconstructions demonstrate the spatial heterogeneity of larger metastases and the importance of a 3D approach to understand growth and development of metastases in general and colon cancer metastases in the liver in particular.