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Cancer Lett. 2007 Sep 8;254(2):255-64. Epub 2007 Apr 27.

Human bone marrow stromal cells enhance breast cancer cell growth rates in a cell line-dependent manner when evaluated in 3D tumor environments.

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Integrated Biomedical Science Graduate Program, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine & Public Health, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.


Our understanding of the impact that fibroblasts have on cancer cell behavior in vivo has been limited by the complexities of in vivo tumor microenvironments, which contain many distinct cell populations that influence tumor growth and survival. Herein, we describe a novel, three-dimensional (3D), in vitro, fluorometric, Tumor Growth Assay (TGA) that allows for non-invasive measurements of cancer cell expansion in the presence of multiple tumor-associated cell types or soluble factors, while embedded in Cultrex or Matrigel Basement Membrane Extract (BME). Using this assay, we investigated the direct biological impact of primary human bone marrow stromal cells (hMSC) on the growth rates of a panel of metastatic breast cancer cell lines. Human MSC can be readily isolated from bone marrow, a principle site of breast cancer metastasis, and were found to significantly enhance the growth rate of MCF-7 (P-value<0.0001), an estrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha) positive breast cancer cell line, in a soluble factor-dependent manner. MSC paracrine factors also enhanced the growth of other ERalpha positive breast cancer cell lines including T47D, BT474, and ZR-75-1 (P-value<0.05). In contrast, the ERalpha negative cell line MDA-MB-231 was unaffected by hMSC and the growth rate of another ERalpha negative cell line MDA-MB-468 was elevated in the presence of hMSC, albeit to a lesser extent than MCF-7 or the other ERalpha positive cell lines tested.

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