Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 124, Issue 2, pp 317–326 | Cite as

Potential role of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in the breast tumour microenvironment: stimulation of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT)

  • F. T. Martin
  • R. M. Dwyer
  • J. Kelly
  • S. Khan
  • J. M. Murphy
  • C. Curran
  • N. Miller
  • E. Hennessy
  • P. Dockery
  • F. P. Barry
  • T. O’Brien
  • M. J. Kerin
Preclinical study


Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are known to specifically migrate to and engraft at tumour sites. Understanding interactions between cancer cells and MSCs has become fundamental to determining whether MSC-tumour interactions should be harnessed for delivery of therapeutic agents or considered a target for intervention. Breast Cancer Cell lines (MDA-MB-231, T47D & SK-Br3) were cultured alone or on a monolayer of MSCs, and retrieved using epithelial specific magnetic beads. Alterations in expression of 90 genes associated with breast tumourigenicity were analysed using low-density array. Expression of markers of epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and array results were validated using RQ-PCR. Co-cultured cells were analysed for changes in protein expression, growth pattern and morphology. Gene expression and proliferation assays were also performed on indirect co-cultures. Following direct co-culture with MSCs, breast cancer cells expressed elevated levels of oncogenes (NCOA4, FOS), proto-oncogenes (FYN, JUN), genes associated with invasion (MMP11), angiogenesis (VEGF) and anti-apoptosis (IGF1R, BCL2). However, universal downregulation of genes associated with proliferation was observed (Ki67, MYBL2), and reflected in reduced ATP production in response to MSC-secreted factors. Significant upregulation of EMT specific markers (N-cadherin, Vimentin, Twist and Snail) was also observed following co-culture with MSCs, with a reciprocal downregulation in E-cadherin protein expression. These changes were predominantly cell contact mediated and appeared to be MSC specific. Breast cancer cell morphology and growth pattern also altered in response to MSCs. MSCs may promote breast cancer metastasis through facilitation of EMT.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) Breast cancer Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) Invasion Co-culture 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. T. Martin
    • 1
  • R. M. Dwyer
    • 1
  • J. Kelly
    • 1
  • S. Khan
    • 1
  • J. M. Murphy
    • 2
  • C. Curran
    • 1
  • N. Miller
    • 1
  • E. Hennessy
    • 1
  • P. Dockery
    • 3
  • F. P. Barry
    • 2
  • T. O’Brien
    • 2
  • M. J. Kerin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SurgeryNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland
  2. 2.Regenerative Medicine InstituteNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland
  3. 3.Department of AnatomyNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland

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