Single-cell analysis reveals the COL11A1 + fibroblasts are cancer-specific fibroblasts that promote tumor progression
Background: Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) promote tumor progression through extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling and extensive communication with other cells in tumor microenvironment. However, most CAF-targeting strategies failed in clinical trials due to the heterogeneity of CAFs. Hence, we aimed to identify the cluster of tumor-promoting CAFs, elucidate their function and determine their specific membrane markers to ensure precise targeting. Methods: We integrated multiple single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) datasets across different tumors and adjacent normal tissues to identify the tumor-promoting CAF cluster. We analyzed the origin of these CAFs by pseudotime analysis, and tried to elucidate the function of these CAFs by gene regulatory network analysis and cell-cell communication analysis. We also performed cell-type deconvolution analysis to examine the association between the proportion of these CAFs and patients’ prognosis in TCGA cancer cohorts, and validated that through IHC staining in clinical tumor tissues. In addition, we analyzed the membrane molecules in different fibroblast clusters, trying to identify the membrane molecules that were specifically expressed on these CAFs. Results: We found that COL11A1+ fibroblasts specifically exist in tumor tissues but not in normal tissues and named them cancer-specific fibroblasts (CSFs). We revealed that these CSFs were transformed from normal fibroblasts. CSFs represented a more activated CAF cluster and may promote tumor progression through the regulation on ECM remodeling and antitumor immune responses. High CSF proportion was associated with poor prognosis in bladder cancer (BCa) and lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD), and IHC staining of COL11A1 confirmed their specific expression in tumor stroma in clinical BCa samples. We also identified that CSFs specifically express the membrane molecules LRRC15, ITGA11, SPHK1 and FAP, which could distinguish CSFs from other fibroblasts. Conclusion: We identified that CSFs is a tumor specific cluster of fibroblasts, which are in active state, may promote tumor progression through the regulation on ECM remodeling and antitumor immune responses. Membrane molecules LRRC15, ITGA11, SPHK1 and FAP could be used as therapeutic targets for CSF-targeting cancer treatment.