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J Cancer. 2017 Sep 12;8(16):3131-3141. doi: 10.7150/jca.18457. eCollection 2017.

Breast Cancer Cell Line Classification and Its Relevance with Breast Tumor Subtyping.

Dai X1,2, Cheng H1,2, Bai Z1,2, Li J1,2.

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National Engineering Laboratory for Cereal Fermentation Technology, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.
The Key Laboratory of Industrial Biotechnology, Ministry of Education, School of Biotechnology, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.


Breast cancer cell lines have been widely used for breast cancer modelling which encompasses a panel of diseases with distinct phenotypical associations. Though cell lines provide unlimited homogenous materials for tumor studies and are relatively easy to culture, they are known to accumulate mutations duringthe initial establishment and subsequent series of cultivations. Thus, whether breast cancer cell line heterogeneity reflects that of carcinoma remains an important issue to resolve before drawing any reliable conclusion at the tumor level using cell lines. Inconsistent nomenclatures used for breast cancer cell line subtyping and the different number of subtypes grouped for cell lines and tumors make their direct matching elusive. By analyzing the molecular features of 92 breast cancer cell lines as documented by different literatures, we categorize 84 cell lines into 5 groups to be consistent with breast tumor classification. After combing through these cell lines, we summarized the molecular features, genetically and epigenetically, of each subtype, and manually documented 10 cell lines lacking explicit information on subtyping. Nine cell lines, either found inconsistent on their primary molecular features from different studies or being contaminated at the origin, are not suggested as the first choice for experimental use. We conclude that breast tumor cell lines, though having a high mutational frequency with many uncertainties and could not fully capture breast cancer heterogeneity, are feasible but crude models for tumors of the same subtype. New cell lines with enriched interferon regulated genes need to be established to enlarge the coverage of cell lines on tumor heterogeneity.


breast cancer; cell line; molecular feature; subtyping

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Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interest exists.

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