Clinical & Experimental Metastasis

, Volume 32, Issue 7, pp 689–702 | Cite as

Human breast cancer bone metastasis in vitro and in vivo: a novel 3D model system for studies of tumour cell-bone cell interactions

  • I. Holen
  • F. Nutter
  • J. M. Wilkinson
  • C. A. Evans
  • P. Avgoustou
  • Penelope D. OttewellEmail author
Research Paper


Bone is established as the preferred site of breast cancer metastasis. However, the precise mechanisms responsible for this preference remain unidentified. In order to improve outcome for patients with advanced breast cancer and skeletal involvement, we need to better understand how this process is initiated and regulated. As bone metastasis cannot be easily studied in patients, researchers have to date mainly relied on in vivo xenograft models. A major limitation of these is that they do not contain a human bone microenvironment, increasingly considered to be an important component of metastases. In order to address this shortcoming, we have developed a novel humanised bone model, where 1 × 105 luciferase-expressing MDA-MB-231 or T47D human breast tumour cells are seeded on viable human subchaodral bone discs in vitro. These discs contain functional osteoclasts 2-weeks after in vitro culture and positive staining for calcine 1-week after culture demonstrating active bone resorption/formation. In vitro inoculation of MDA-MB-231 or T47D cells colonised human bone cores and remained viable for <4 weeks, however, use of matrigel to enhance adhesion or a moving platform to increase diffusion of nutrients provided no additional advantage. Following colonisation by the tumour cells, bone discs pre-seeded with MDA-MB-231 cells were implanted subcutaneously into NOD SCID mice, and tumour growth monitored using in vivo imaging for up to 6 weeks. Tumour growth progressed in human bone discs in 80 % of the animals mimicking the later stages of human bone metastasis. Immunohistochemical and PCR analysis revealed that growing MDA-MB-231 cells in human bone resulted in these cells acquiring a molecular phenotype previously associated with breast cancer bone metastases. MDA-MB-231 cells grown in human bone discs showed increased expression of IL-1B, HRAS and MMP9 and decreased expression of S100A4, whereas, DKK2 and FN1 were unaltered compared with the same cells grown in mammary fat pads of mice not implanted with human bone discs.


Breast cancer Bone Metastasis 3D models 



This study was supported by a project grant from Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity, Sheffield, UK. The IVIS imaging system was provided by a grant from Yorkshire Cancer Research, UK. We thank Ms Sophia Sutherland and Dr. Fatma Gossiel for technical assistance and Dr. Paul Heath, University of Sheffield, for his help with genetic analysis. We gratefully acknowledge authorisation to perform the in vivo component of the study under Home Office Project License approval PPL 40/3531 holder Prof. NJ Brown, University of Sheffield, UK.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. Holen
    • 1
  • F. Nutter
    • 1
  • J. M. Wilkinson
    • 2
  • C. A. Evans
    • 1
  • P. Avgoustou
    • 1
  • Penelope D. Ottewell
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Academic Unit of Clinical Oncology, Department of Oncology, Mellanby Centre for Bone Research, Medical SchoolUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.Department of Human Metabolism, Mellanby Centre for Bone Research, Medical SchoolUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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