Early detection of bone metastases in a murine model using fluorescent human breast cancer cells: application to the use of the bisphosphonate zoledronic acid in the treatment of osteolytic lesions

J Bone Miner Res. 2001 Nov;16(11):2027-34. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.2001.16.11.2027.


A very common metastatic site for human breast cancer is bone. The traditional bone metastasis model requires human MDA-MB-231 breast carcinoma cell inoculation into the left heart ventricle of nude mice. MDA-MB-231 cells usually develop osteolytic lesions 3-4 weeks after intracardiac inoculation in these animals. Here, we report a new approach to study the formation of bone metastasis in animals using breast carcinoma cells expressing the bioluminescent jellyfish protein (green fluorescent protein [GFP]). We first established a subclone of MDA-MB-231 cells by repeated in vivo passages in bone using the heart injection model. On stable transfection of this subclone with an expression vector for GFP and subsequent inoculation of GFP-expressing tumor cells (B02/GFP.2) in the mouse tail vein, B02/GFP.2 cells displayed a unique predilection for dissemination to bone. Externally fluorescence imaging of live animals allowed the detection of fluorescent bone metastases approximately 1 week before the occurrence of radiologically distinctive osteolytic lesions. The number, size, and intensity of fluorescent bone metastases increased progressively with time and was indicative of breast cancer cell progression within bone. Histological examination of fluorescent long bones from B02/GFP.2-bearing mice revealed the occurrence of profound bone destruction. Treatment of B02/GFP.2-bearing mice with the bisphosphonate zoledronic acid markedly inhibited the progression of established osteolytic lesions and the expansion of breast cancer cells within bone. Overall, this new bone metastasis model of breast cancer combining both fluorescence imaging and radiography should provide an invaluable tool to study the effectiveness of pharmaceutical agents that could suppress cancer colonization in bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Bone Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Diphosphonates / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / therapeutic use
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Osteolysis / drug therapy
  • Osteolysis / etiology
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Zoledronic Acid


  • Diphosphonates
  • Imidazoles
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Zoledronic Acid