The tumor microenvironment is known to play a key role in altering the properties and behavior of nearby cancer cells. Its influence on resistance to endocrine therapy and cancer relapse, however, is poorly understood. Here we investigate the interaction of mammary fibroblasts and estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cells in three-dimensional culture models in order to characterize gene expression, cellular changes, and the secreted protein factors involved in the cellular cross-talk. We show that fibroblasts, which are the predominant cell type found in the stroma adjacent to the cancer cells in a tumor, induce an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in the cancer cells, leading to hormone-independent growth, a more invasive phenotype, and resistance to endocrine therapy. Here, we applied a label-free chemical imaging modality, Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopic imaging, to identify cells that had transitioned to hormone-independent growth. Both the molecular and chemical profiles identified here were translated from cell culture to patient samples: a secreted protein signature was used to stratify patient populations based on gene expression and FT-IR was used to characterize breast tumor patient biopsies. Our findings underscore the role of mammary fibroblasts in promoting aggressiveness and endocrine therapy resistance in ER-positive breast cancers and highlight the utility of FT-IR for the further characterization of breast cancer samples.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)