State-dependent evolutionary models reveal modes of solid tumor growth

Lewinsohn MA, Bedford T, Müller NF, Feder AF. 2023. Nat Ecol Evol 7: 581-596.


Spatial properties of tumour growth have profound implications for cancer progression, therapeutic resistance and metastasis. Yet, how spatial position governs tumour cell division remains difficult to evaluate in clinical tumours. Here, we demonstrate that faster division on the tumour periphery leaves characteristic genetic patterns, which become evident when a phylogenetic tree is reconstructed from spatially sampled cells. Namely, rapidly dividing peripheral lineages branch more extensively and acquire more mutations than slower-dividing centre lineages. We develop a Bayesian state-dependent evolutionary phylodynamic model (SDevo) that quantifies these patterns to infer the differential division rates between peripheral and central cells. We demonstrate that this approach accurately infers spatially varying birth rates of simulated tumours across a range of growth conditions and sampling strategies. We then show that SDevo outperforms state-of-the-art, non-cancer multi-state phylodynamic methods that ignore differential sequence evolution. Finally, we apply SDevo to single-time-point, multi-region sequencing data from clinical hepatocellular carcinomas and find evidence of a three- to six-times-higher division rate on the tumour edge. With the increasing availability of high-resolution, multi-region sequencing, we anticipate that SDevo will be useful in interrogating spatial growth restrictions and could be extended to model non-spatial factors that influence tumour progression.