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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.

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Ter-119, Ter-cell, artemin, cancer immunotherapy, erythroblast-like, hepatocellular carcinoma, prognosis biomarker