Experimental examination of normal human mammary epithelial cell (HMEC) behavior, and how normal cells acquire abnormal properties, can be facilitated by in vitro culture systems that more accurately model in vivo biology. The use of human derived material for studying cellular differentiation, aging, senescence, and immortalization is particularly advantageous given the many significant molecular differences in these properties between human and commonly utilized rodent cells1-2. Mammary cells present a convenient model system because large quantities of normal and abnormal tissues are available due to the frequency of reduction mammoplasty and mastectomy surgeries.
The mammary gland consists of a complex admixture of many distinct cell types, e.g., epithelial, adipose, mesenchymal, endothelial. The epithelial cells are responsible for the differentiated mammary function of lactation, and are also the origin of the vast majority of human breast cancers. We have developed methods to process mammary gland surgical discard tissues into pure epithelial components as well as mesenchymal cells3. The processed material can be stored frozen indefinitely, or initiated into primary culture. Surgical discard material is transported to the laboratory and manually dissected to enrich for epithelial containing tissue. Subsequent digestion of the dissected tissue using collagenase and hyaluronidase strips stromal material from the epithelia at the basement membrane. The resulting small pieces of the epithelial tree (organoids) can be separated from the digested stroma by sequential filtration on membranes of fixed pore size. Depending upon pore size, fractions can be obtained consisting of larger ductal/alveolar pieces, smaller alveolar clusters, or stromal cells. We have observed superior growth when cultures are initiated as organoids rather than as dissociated single cells. Placement of organoids in culture using low-stress inducing media supports long-term growth of normal HMEC with markers of multiple lineage types (myoepithelial, luminal, progenitor)4-5. Sufficient numbers of cells can be obtained from one individual's tissue to allow extensive experimental examination using standardized cell batches, as well as interrogation using high throughput modalities.
Cultured HMEC have been employed in a wide variety of studies examining the normal processes governing growth, differentiation, aging, and senescence, and how these normal processes are altered during immortal and malignant transformation4-15,16. The effects of growth in the presence of extracellular matrix material, other cell types, and/or 3D culture can be compared with growth on plastic5,15. Cultured HMEC, starting with normal cells, provide an experimentally tractable system to examine factors that may propel or prevent human aging and carcinogenesis.
Keywords: Cancer Biology, Issue 71, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cellular Biology, Tissue Culture, Tissue Engineering, Oncology, Human mammary epithelial cell culture, reduction mammoplasty, mastectomy, breast cancer, tumor, cancer, matrigel, cell culture