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Identifying tumor-induced leukocyte subsets and their derived circulating factors has been instrumental in understanding cancer as a systemic disease. Nevertheless, how primary tumor-induced non-leukocyte populations in distal organs contribute to systemic spread remains poorly defined. Here, we report one population of tumor-inducible, erythroblast-like cells (Ter-cells) deriving from megakaryocyte-erythroid progenitor cells with a unique Ter-119+CD45-CD71+ phenotype. Ter-cells are enriched in the enlarged spleen of hosts bearing advanced tumors and facilitate tumor progression by secreting neurotrophic factor artemin into the blood. Transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) and Smad3 activation are important in Ter-cell generation. In vivo blockade of Ter-cell-derived artemin inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) growth, and artemin deficiency abolishes Ter-cells' tumor-promoting ability. We confirm the presence of splenic artemin-positive Ter-cells in human HCC patients and show that significantly elevated serum artemin correlates with poor prognosis. We propose that Ter-cells and the secreted artemin play important roles in cancer progression with prognostic and therapeutic implications.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





634 - 648.e12


Ter-119, Ter-cell, artemin, cancer immunotherapy, erythroblast-like, hepatocellular carcinoma, prognosis biomarker, Animals, Apoptosis, Carcinoma, Hepatocellular, Cell Movement, Cell Proliferation, Disease Progression, Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition, Erythroblasts, Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic, Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors, Hep G2 Cells, Humans, Leukocyte Common Antigens, Leukocytes, Liver Neoplasms, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Neoplasm Invasiveness, Nerve Tissue Proteins, Signal Transduction, Spleen, Transforming Growth Factor beta