A 3D in vitro model of the human breast duct: a method to unravel myoepithelial-luminal interactions in the progression of breast cancer

Edward Carter, James Gopsill, Jennifer Gomm, Louise Jones, Richard Grose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (SciVal)


3D modelling fulfils a critical role in research, allowing for complex cell behaviour and interactions to be studied in physiomimetic conditions. With tissue banks becoming established for a number of cancers, researchers now have access to primary patient cells, providing the perfect building blocks to recreate and interrogate intricate cellular systems in the laboratory. The ducts of the human breast are composed of an inner layer of luminal cells supported by an outer layer of myoepithelial cells. In early-stage ductal carcinoma in situ, cancerous luminal cells are confined to the ductal space by an intact myoepithelial layer. Understanding the relationship between myoepithelial and luminal cells in the development of cancer is critical for the development of new therapies and prognostic markers. This requires the generation of new models that allows for the manipulation of these two cell types in a physiological setting.

Using access to the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank, we isolated pure populations of myoepithelial and luminal cells from human reduction mammoplasty specimens and placed them into 2D culture. These cells were infected with lentiviral particles encoding either fluorescent proteins, to facilitate cell tracking, or an inducible human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) expression construct. Myoepithelial and luminal cells were then recombined in collagen gels, and the resulting cellular structures were analysed by confocal microscopy.

Myoepithelial and luminal cells isolated from reduction mammoplasty specimens can be grown separately in 2D culture and retain their differentiated state. When recombined in collagen gels, these cells reform into physiologically reflective bilayer structures. Inducible expression of HER2 in the luminal compartment, once the bilayer has formed, leads to robust luminal filling, recapitulating ductal carcinoma in situ, and can be blocked with anti-HER2 therapies.

This model allows for the interaction between myoepithelial and luminal cells to be investigated in an in-vitro environment and paves the way to study early events in breast cancer development with the potential to act as a powerful drug discovery platform.
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Early online date21 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2017


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