Functional heterogeneity of breast fibroblasts is defined by a prostaglandin secretory phenotype that promotes expansion of cancer-stem like cells

PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24605. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024605. Epub 2011 Sep 21.


Fibroblasts are important in orchestrating various functions necessary for maintaining normal tissue homeostasis as well as promoting malignant tumor growth. Significant evidence indicates that fibroblasts are functionally heterogeneous with respect to their ability to promote tumor growth, but markers that can be used to distinguish growth promoting from growth suppressing fibroblasts remain ill-defined. Here we show that human breast fibroblasts are functionally heterogeneous with respect to tumor-promoting activity regardless of whether they were isolated from normal or cancerous breast tissues. Rather than significant differences in fibroblast marker expression, we show that fibroblasts secreting abundant levels of prostaglandin (PGE2), when isolated from either reduction mammoplasty or carcinoma tissues, were both capable of enhancing tumor growth in vivo and could increase the number of cancer stem-like cells. PGE2 further enhanced the tumor promoting properties of fibroblasts by increasing secretion of IL-6, which was necessary, but not sufficient, for expansion of breast cancer stem-like cells. These findings identify a population of fibroblasts which both produce and respond to PGE2, and that are functionally distinct from other fibroblasts. Identifying markers of these cells could allow for the targeted ablation of tumor-promoting and inflammatory fibroblasts in human breast cancers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Separation
  • Dinoprostone / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Mammaplasty
  • Mice
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Phenotype*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Interleukin-6
  • Dinoprostone