Influence of microenvironment on mammary epithelial cell survival in primary culture

J Cell Physiol. 1999 Nov;181(2):304-11. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-4652(199911)181:2<304::AID-JCP12>3.0.CO;2-5.


Mammary epithelial cells cultured on Engelbreth-Holm-Swarm (EHS) matrix form multicellular structures termed mammospheres, in which cells and matrix become arranged around a central luminal space. In the presence of lactogenic hormones, cells within mammospheres become polarized, form tight intercellular junctions, and secrete milk proteins vectorially into the luminal space. This study examined the mechanism of lumen formation. Histological examination of developing mammospheres showed that cavitation was associated spatially and temporally with the appearance of fragmented nuclear material in apoptotic bodies, and with the presence of cells positively labeled by terminal deoxynucleotide transferase-mediated deoxyuridine nick end-labeling (TUNEL). Analysis of [(32)P]-deoxynucleotide end-labeled genomic DNA by electrophoresis and autoradiography showed DNA laddering indicative of apoptosis. A transient increase in laddering coincided with both lumen formation and the presence of TUNEL-positive cells. Lumen formation, DNA laddering, and detection of TUNEL-positive cells were all accelerated when matrix composition was altered. They were also impaired coordinately when caspase inhibitor was present during the first two days of culture. Therefore, lumen formation in mammosphere cultures is due to selective apoptosis of centrally located cells. Mammosphere cavitation was accompanied by redistribution of matrix constituents to the mammosphere periphery. Western blotting and Western ligand blotting of culture medium showed that lumen formation was also associated with a transient increase in insulin-like growth factor binding protein-5 (IGFBP5), a factor implicated in mammary apoptosis in vivo. We propose that epithelial cell survival during mammosphere development is induced selectively through stabilization by basement membrane constituents, which may act directly on the epithelial cell or confer protection against autocrine apoptotic factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Culture Media
  • DNA / analysis
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Extracellular Matrix
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 5 / analysis
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 5 / biosynthesis
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Sarcoma, Experimental


  • Culture Media
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 5
  • DNA