Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 221–230 | Cite as

The influence of growth factors on the proliferative potential of normal and primary breast cancer-derived human breast epithelial cells

  • Stephen P. Ethier
  • Rochelle M. Summerfelt
  • Kimberly C. Cundiff
  • Bonnie B. Asch


In previous studies, we developed serum-free, bovine pituitary extract (BPE)-free culture conditions for the growth of normal and neoplastic rat mammary epithelial cells. The present studies were aimed at determining if these culture methods could be used to study the influence of specific growth factors on the proliferative potential of normal human mammary epithelial (HME) cells and cells derived from human breast cancer (HBC) specimens. Our results indicate that normal HME cells in primary culture express stringent requirements for insulin (IN), epidermal growth factor (EGF), and cholera toxin (CT). Of these factors, EGF is most important, with essentially no proliferation taking place in the absence of this factor. By contrast, when cells are grown in serum-free primary culture in the presence of a full complement of growth factors and then subcultured, growth in secondary culture is not influenced by the removal of individual growth factors. Growth in secondary culture in the absence of EGF is mediated by autocrine factors secreted by the cells. However, there is no evidence for autocrine activity that mediates growth in the absence of IN in secondary cultures. Primary culture of HBC cells in serum-free, BPE-free medium revealed two patterns of growth factor requirements. One set of HBC cells expressed identical requirements for IN and EGF in primary culture as normal cells. Likewise, these cells grew in secondary culture in the absence of either factor. The second set of tumors expressed independence of IN for growth in primary culture. These cells grew to confluence in primary culture in the absence of IN and could be subcultured in this medium. All tumor cells examined expressed a requirement for EGF for primary culture growth, whereas none of the HBC cells examined expressed a significant CT requirement. In many cases, growth in the absence of CT exceeded that observed in its presence. Thus, our culture system allows analysis of the growth factor requirements of HME and HBC cells in primary culture. Our results indicate significant differences between HME and HBC cells in this regard. However, the results of secondary culture experiments indicate that the growth factor milieu from which cells are taken can have a profound effect on the requirements for growth factors in culture.

Key words

autocrine factors cholera toxin culture methods epidermal growth factor growth factor insulin mammary epithelial cells primary cultures 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen P. Ethier
    • 1
  • Rochelle M. Summerfelt
    • 1
  • Kimberly C. Cundiff
    • 1
  • Bonnie B. Asch
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Radiation OncologyThe University of Michigan Medical CenterAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Experimental PathologyRoswell Park Memorial InstituteBuffaloUSA

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