Stromal fibroblasts regulate microvascular-like network architecture in a bioengineered breast tumour angiogenesis model

Acta Biomater. 2020 Sep 15;114:256-269. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2020.07.036. Epub 2020 Jul 21.


The plasticity of the tumour microenvironment is a key contributor to cancer development and progression. Here, we present a bioengineered breast tumour angiogenesis model comprised of mammary derived epithelial, endothelial and fibroblast cells, to dissect the mechanisms of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) on microvascular-like network formation and epithelial spheroid morphology. Primary patient-derived mammary endothelial cells, normal breast fibroblasts (NBF, patient matched) and CAFs were cultured within three-dimensional (3D) semi-synthetic hydrogels where CAFs promoted an increase in the density and morphology of the microvascular-like network. The mammary microenvironment also increased the number of MCF-10a epithelial spheroids when compared with a non-mammary microenvironment, and a malignant mammary microenvironment resulted in further morphological differences in the epithelial spheroids. The morphological changes observed following interactions between breast CAFs and endothelial cells, highlight the plasticity of the malignant stroma in tumour vascularisation. Our in vitro bioengineered breast cancer microenvironment provides a robust model to study cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. Statement of Significance In recent years there has been an increase in the sophistication of 3D culture models, however less attention has been paid to the cell source utilised. In this study, we describe the influence of a normal and malignant stromal microenvironment on vessel-like behaviour in a 3D model. Using a semi-synthetic hydrogel, we studied the effects of mammary-derived cancer-associated fibroblasts and normal fibroblasts on human umbilical vein endothelial cells or human mammary microvascular endothelial cells. An increase in vessel-like network and epithelial cell density was seen in a mammary versus non-mammary microenvironment. This study highlights the importance of using tissue-specific endothelial cells in cancer research and demonstrates the microenvironmental impact of fibroblasts on endothelial and epithelial growth and morphology.

Keywords: Angiogenesis; Breast cancer; Cancer-associated fibroblasts; Hydrogel; Tumour microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Breast*
  • Fibroblasts
  • Humans
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Stromal Cells
  • Tumor Microenvironment