Mammosphere formation in breast carcinoma cell lines depends upon expression of E-cadherin

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 4;8(10):e77281. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077281. eCollection 2013.


Tumors are heterogeneous at the cellular level where the ability to maintain tumor growth resides in discrete cell populations. Floating sphere-forming assays are broadly used to test stem cell activity in tissues, tumors and cell lines. Spheroids are originated from a small population of cells with stem cell features able to grow in suspension culture and behaving as tumorigenic in mice. We tested the ability of eleven common breast cancer cell lines representing the major breast cancer subtypes to grow as mammospheres, measuring the ability to maintain cell viability upon serial non-adherent passage. Only MCF7, T47D, BT474, MDA-MB-436 and JIMT1 were successfully propagated as long-term mammosphere cultures, measured as the increase in the number of viable cells upon serial non-adherent passages. Other cell lines tested (SKBR3, MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468 and MDA-MB-435) formed cell clumps that can be disaggregated mechanically, but cell viability drops dramatically on their second passage. HCC1937 and HCC1569 cells formed typical mammospheres, although they could not be propagated as long-term mammosphere cultures. All the sphere forming lines but MDA-MB-436 express E-cadherin on their surface. Knock down of E-cadherin expression in MCF-7 cells abrogated its ability to grow as mammospheres, while re-expression of E-cadherin in SKBR3 cells allow them to form mammospheres. Therefore, the mammosphere assay is suitable to reveal stem like features in breast cancer cell lines that express E-cadherin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cadherins / genetics*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Expression*
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Spheroids, Cellular
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Cadherins

Grant support

The Regulation of Cell Growth Laboratory is supported by grants from Obra Social Kutxa, Fundación Médica Mutua Madrileña, Gobierno Vasco (Saiotek program and Consejería de Educación PI2010-25) and Instituto de Salud Carlos III Acción Estratégica en Salud (PI2010-01035). This work is partly supported by grant BIO2011-27069, MICINN and PROMETEO/2010/001 from the GVA-FEDER to J. Dopazo. Alejandro Vazquez-Martin received the Sara Borrell post-doctoral contract (CD08/00283, Ministerio de Sanidad y Consumo, Fondo de Investigación Sanitaria [FIS], Spain). Silvia Cufí received a Research Fellowship (Formación de Personal Investigador [FPI]; SAF2009-11579) from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (MICINN, Spain). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.