Brain tumor cells thrive by adapting to the signals in their microenvironment. Understanding how the tumor microenvironment evolves during disease progression is crucial to deciphering the mechanisms underlying the functional behavior of cancer cells. To adapt, cancer cells activate signaling and transcriptional programs and migrate to establish micro-niches, in response to signals from neighboring cells and non-cellular stromal factors. Using multiple tissue analysis approaches to identify and measure immune cell infiltration and extracellular matrix deposition in brain tumors, we show that low-grade glioma is largely devoid of infiltrating immune cells and extracellular matrix proteins, while high-grade glioma exhibits abundant immune cell infiltration and activation, as well as extensive collagen deposition. Spatial analysis shows that most T-cells are sequestered in perivascular nests, but macrophages penetrate deep into tumor cell rich regions. High-grade gliomas exhibit heterogeneous PI3K and MAPK signaling, which correlates with distinct pathological hallmarks, including tumor angiogenesis, tumor cell density and extracellular matrix deposition. Our results also provide compelling evidence that tissue remodeling is an important element in glioma progression, and that targeting the extracellular matrix will be critical to improving GBM therapy.

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