Studying biomineralization pathways in a 3D culture model of breast cancer microcalcifications

Biomaterials. 2018 Oct;179:71-82. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2018.06.030. Epub 2018 Jun 22.


Microcalcifications serve as diagnostic markers for breast cancer, yet their formation pathway(s) and role in cancer progression are debated due in part to a lack of relevant 3D culture models that allow studying the extent of cellular regulation over mineralization. Previous studies have suggested processes ranging from dystrophic mineralization associated with cell death to bone-like mineral deposition. Here, we evaluated microcalcification formation in 3D multicellular spheroids, generated from non-malignant, pre-cancer, and invasive cell lines from the MCF10A human breast tumor progression series. The spheroids with greater malignancy potential developed necrotic cores, thus recapitulating spatially distinct viable and non-viable areas known to regulate cellular behavior in tumors in vivo. The spatial distribution of the microcalcifications, as well as their compositions, were characterized using nanoCT, electron-microscopy, and X-ray spectroscopy. Apatite microcalcifications were primarily detected within the viable cell regions and their number and size increased with malignancy potential of the spheroids. Levels of alkaline phosphatase decreased with malignancy potential, whereas levels of osteopontin increased. These findings support a mineralization pathway in which cancer cells induce mineralization in a manner that is linked to their malignancy potential, but that is distinct from physiological osteogenic mineralization.

Keywords: Ductal carcinoma in situ; Multicellular spheroids; Pathological mineralization; XANES.

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

  • Alkaline Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Calcinosis / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism
  • Tomography, X-Ray


  • Alkaline Phosphatase