Reactive glia are recruited by highly proliferative brain metastases of breast cancer and promote tumor cell colonization

Clin Exp Metastasis. 2008;25(7):799-810. doi: 10.1007/s10585-008-9193-z. Epub 2008 Jul 23.


Interactions between tumor cells and the microenvironment are crucial to tumor formation and metastasis. The central nervous system serves as a "sanctuary" site for metastasis, resulting in poor prognosis in diagnosed patients. The incidence of brain metastasis is increasing; however, little is known about interactions between the brain and metastatic cells. Brain pathology was examined in an experimental model system of brain metastasis, using a subline of MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells. The results were compared with an analysis of sixteen resected human brain metastases of breast cancer. Experimental metastases formed preferentially in specific brain regions, with a distribution similar to clinical cases. In both the 231-BR model, and in human specimens, Ki67 expression indicated that metastases were highly proliferative (approximately 50%). Little apoptosis was observed in either set of tumors. In the model system, metastases elicited a brain inflammatory response, with extensive reactive gliosis surrounding metastases. Similarly, large numbers of glial cells were found within the inner tumor mass of human brain metastases. In vitro co-cultures demonstrated that glia induced a approximately 5-fold increase in metastatic cell proliferation (P<0.001), suggesting that brain tissue secretes factors conducive to tumor cell growth. Molecules used to signal between tumor cells and the surrounding glia could provide a new avenue of therapeutic targets for brain metastases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • CD11b Antigen / analysis
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / analysis
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroglia / physiology*


  • CD11b Antigen
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens