Basal-like breast cancer cells induce phenotypic and genomic changes in macrophages

Mol Cancer Res. 2012 Jun;10(6):727-38. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-11-0604. Epub 2012 Apr 24.


Basal-like breast cancer (BBC) is an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that has no biologically targeted therapy. The interactions of BBCs with stromal cells are important determinants of tumor biology, with inflammatory cells playing well-recognized roles in cancer progression. Despite the fact that macrophage-BBC communication is bidirectional, important questions remain about how BBCs affect adjacent immune cells. This study investigated monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation and polarization and gene expression in response to coculture with basal-like versus luminal breast cancer cells. Changes induced by coculture were compared with changes observed under classical differentiation and polarization conditions. Monocytes (THP-1 cells) exposed to BBC cells in coculture had altered gene expression with upregulation of both M1 and M2 macrophage markers. Two sets of M1 and M2 markers were selected from the PCR profiles and used for dual immunofluorescent staining of BBC versus luminal cocultured THP-1s, and cancer-adjacent, benign tissue sections from patients diagnosed with BBCs or luminal breast cancer, confirming the differential expression patterns. Relative to luminal breast cancers, BBCs also increased differentiation of monocytes to macrophages and stimulated macrophage migration. Consistent with these changes in cellular phenotype, a distinct pattern of cytokine secretion was evident in macrophage-BBC cocultures, including upregulation of NAP-2, osteoprotegerin, MIG, MCP-1, MCP-3, and interleukin (IL)-1β. Application of IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1RA) to cocultures attenuated BBC-induced macrophage migration. These data contribute to an understanding of the BBC-mediated activation of the stromal immune response, implicating specific cytokines that are differentially expressed in basal-like microenvironments and suggesting plausible targets for modulating immune responses to BBCs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Communication / genetics*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Movement / genetics
  • Cell Polarity / genetics
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin 1 Receptor Antagonist Protein / pharmacology
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Basal Cell / genetics
  • Neoplasms, Basal Cell / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Basal Cell / pathology
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin 1 Receptor Antagonist Protein