Introduction: Tumour phenotype is regulated in a complex fashion as a result of interactions between malignant cells and the tumour stroma. Fibroblasts are the most abundant and perhaps most active part of the tumour stroma. A better understanding of the changes that occur in fibroblasts in response to the presence of malignant cells may lead to the development of new strategies for cancer treatment. We explored the effects of fibroblasts on the growth and invasion of mammary carcinoma tumour cells in vitro and in vivo.
Methods: In order to analyse secreted factors that affect invasive abilities of breast cancer cells we co-cultured human mammary fibroblasts (HMF3s) and cancer cells (MCF7S1) in three-dimensional (3D) growth conditions devoid of heterogeneous cell-cell contact. To study the possible influence of fibroblasts on MCF7S1 cancer cell growth in vivo we co-injected HMF3s and MCF7S1 cells in Balb/c nu/nu mice.
Results: In 3D co-culture both HMF3s and MCF7S1 cells demonstrated enhanced invasion into a Matrigel matrix. This was correlated with enhanced expression of the metastasis promoting S100A4 protein in fibroblasts, stimulation of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 activity, and enhanced secretion of a range of different cytokines. Orthotopic injection of oestrogen-dependent MCF7S1 cancer cells together with fibroblasts showed stimulation of tumour growth in mice without an external oestrogen supply. The resulting tumours were characterized by increased development of extracellular matrix, as well as an increase of murine S100A4 concentration and activity of MMP-2 in the tumour interstitial fluid.
Conclusion: Stimulation of the invasive phenotype of tumour cells in 3D co-cultures with fibroblasts could be correlated with increased production of S100A4 and MMP-2. We propose that enhanced development of mouse host-derived tumour stroma in a MCF7S1 co-injection xenograft model leads to oestrogen independency and is triggered by the initial presence of human fibroblasts.