IL-17 expression by breast-cancer-associated macrophages: IL-17 promotes invasiveness of breast cancer cell lines

Breast Cancer Res. 2008;10(6):R95. doi: 10.1186/bcr2195. Epub 2008 Nov 17.


Introduction: IL-17 plays an important role in autoimmunity, promoting autoimmunity, inflammation and invasion in multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type I diabetes. The role of IL-17 in cancer is unclear, however, as there are few studies examining IL-17 protein expression in cancer. We therefore examined IL-17 protein expression in human breast cancer and modelled its potential biological significance in vitro.

Methods: Immunohistochemistry was used to determine IL-17 expression in breast cancers. Matrigel invasion assays were employed to examine the effect of IL-17 on cancer cell invasion by a panel of breast cancer cell lines. The role of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) was investigated with selective antagonists and immunoassays for MMP-2, MMP-3, MMP-9 and tissue inhibitor of MMP.

Results: IL-17-expressing cells with macrophage morphology were identified in the peritumoural area of a proportion of patients (8/19 patients). Macrophages were confirmed by CD68 staining on serial sections. With the exception of occasional lymphocytes, one patient with rare multinucleate giant cells and one patient with occasional expression of IL-17 in tumour cells, no other IL-17-positive cells were detected. Addition of IL-17 to cell lines in vitro stimulated marked invasion of Matrigel. In contrast, IL-17 did not promote the invasion of MCF7 or T47D cell lines. Invasion was initially thought to be dependent on MMPs, as evidenced by the broad-spectrum MMP inhibitor GM6001 and selective antagonists of MMP-2/MMP-9 and MMP-3. Measurement of MMP-2, MMP-3 and MMP-9, and tissue inhibitor of MMP 1 secretion, failed to reveal any changes in expression following IL-17 exposure. In contrast, TNF promoted secretion of MMPs but IL-17 did not augment TNF, indicating that IL-17 acts via an independent mechanism.

Conclusions: The present study is the first to describe in situ expression of IL-17 protein in human breast tumours and to propose a direct association between IL-17 and breast cancer invasion. The precise effectors of IL-17-dependent invasion remain to be characterised but could include a range of proteases such as a disintegrin and metalloproteinase protein or astacins. Nevertheless, this work identifies a novel potential mechanism for breast cancer invasion and tumour progression, the prognostic implication of which is currently under investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Drug Combinations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism*
  • Laminin / metabolism
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Tissue Inhibitor of Metalloproteinase-1 / metabolism
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Drug Combinations
  • Interleukin-17
  • Laminin
  • Proteoglycans
  • Tissue Inhibitor of Metalloproteinase-1
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • matrigel
  • Collagen
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases