Breast cancer cells and macrophages in a paracrine-juxtacrine loop

Biomaterials. 2021 Jan;267:120412. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2020.120412. Epub 2020 Oct 22.


Breast cancer cells (BCC) and macrophages are known to interact via epidermal growth factor (EGF) produced by macrophages and colony stimulating factor-1 (CSF-1) produced by BCC. Despite contradictory findings, this interaction is perceived as a paracrine loop. Further, the underlying mechanism of interaction remains unclear. Here, we investigated interactions of BCC with macrophages in 2D and 3D. While both BCC and macrophages showed invasion/chemotaxis to fetal bovine serum, only macrophages showed chemotaxis to BCC in custom designed 3D cell-on-a-chip devices. These results were in agreement with gradient simulation results and ELISA results showing that macrophage-derived-EGF was not secreted into macrophage-conditioned-medium. Live cell imaging of BCC in the presence and absence of iressa showed that macrophages but not macrophage-derived-matrix modulated adhesion and motility of BCC in 2D. 3D co-culture experiments in collagen and matrigel showed that BCC changed their multicellular organization in the presence of macrophages. In custom designed 3D co-culture cell-on-a-chip devices, macrophages promoted and reduced migration of BCC in collagen and matrigel, respectively. Furthermore, adherent but not suspended BCC endocytosed EGFR when in contact with macrophages. Collectively, our data revealed that macrophages showed chemotaxis towards BCC whereas BCC required direct contact to interact with macrophage-derived-EGF. Therefore, we propose that the interaction between cancer cells and macrophages is a paracrine-juxtacrine loop of CSF-1 and EGF, respectively.

Keywords: Breast cancer cells; Cell-on-a-chip; Epidermal growth factor; Juxtacrine; Macrophages; Paracrine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Chemotaxis
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Epidermal Growth Factor*
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor*
  • Macrophages*


  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor