Retention of hormone responsiveness in primary culture models of human breast is essential for studies aimed at understanding the mechanisms of action of the ovarian hormones in the human breast. In this chapter we describe the development of a culture model of primary human breast that retains critical features of the tissue in vivo. We find that primary normal human breast tissue in embedded culture recapitulates the morphology, cell lineages, functional gene expression characteristics and estrogen and progesterone receptor responsiveness of the breast in vivo. The ratio of luminal to myoepithelial cells after culture recapitulates that observed in the uncultured tissue, highlighting the fact that progenitor cells capable of giving rise to both epithelial cell lineages are retained in this model system. By contrast, primary cells placed into monolayer culture, even for a single passage, lose bipotent progenitors, and the myoepithelial lineage predominates, demonstrating the rapidity with which phenotypic changes and selection occur in normal breast cells, unless cultured under conditions that prevent this outcome. Primary matrix-embedded culture of normal human breast cells provides researchers with a new opportunity to understand ovarian hormone action in the human breast.
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The authors would like to thank Karen Byth for assistance with statistical analyses, Virginia James for performing PAS staining and Jadranka Tomas for cutting paraffin sections.
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