Human colorectal cancer (CRC) is a frequent neoplasia inWestern countries, and its metastatic progression is a major cause of cancerrelated death. In search of specific molecules upregulated in CRC, with possible clinical relevance, we performed a differential geneprofiling analysis in surgery-derived CRC samples and adjacent uninvolved intestinal mucosa. The chemokine CX3CL1 and its specific receptor CX3CR1 were significantly upregulated in tumors. Higher expression of CX3CL1 and CX3CR1 was confirmed by immunohistochemistry in 100 CRC tumor samples (stages I-III). Unexpectedly, high immune scores of CX3CL1 did not correlate with the density of tumor-infiltrating CD3+ T cells or CD68+ macrophages. Coexpression of ligand and receptor by tumor cells (axis-positive tumors) significantly associated with longer disease-free (p = 0.01) and disease-specific survival (p = 0.001). Conversely, axis-negative tumors (with low expression of both ligand and receptor) had increased risk of tumor relapse (p = 0.02), and increased likelihood of metachronous metastasis (p = 0.001), including after stage adjustment (p = 0.006). Transduction of CX3CL1 and CX3CR1 in CRC tumor cell lines induced cell aggregation that strongly inhibited in vitro migration in chemotaxis assays. In a mouse model of spleen- liver metastases, cancer dissemination to liver was dramatically reduced in CX3CL1-CX3CR1-expressing tumors, and ligand- receptor interaction was confirmed in cancer cells in vivo by fluorescence resonance energy transfer analysis. In conclusion, tumoral expression of the CX3CL1-CX3CR1 chemokine axis functions as a retention factor, increasing homotypic cell adhesion and limiting tumor spreading to metastatic sites. Lack or low levels of expression of CX3CL1-CX3CR1 by tumor cells identifies a group of CRC patients at increased risk of metastatic progression.
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