Paracrine interactions between stromal and epithelial cells are important influences on the growth and malignant behavior of breast cancers. Insulin-like growth factors I and II (IGF-I and II) are expressed by fibroblasts in benign and malignant breast lesions, and both are strong mitogens for a number of breast cancer epithelial cell lines in vitro. We have analyzed the stromal mRNA expression of IGF-I and IGF-II in matched sets of fibroblast cell lines derived from three locations in the affected breast of eight patients with breast cancer: (a) the breast tumor itself; (b) surrounding normal breast tissue; and (c) overlying breast skin.

IGF-I expression was easily detected in all fibroblasts derived from normal breast tissue. In general, lesser amounts of IGF-I mRNA were detected in fibroblasts derived from breast tumors or skin. In contrast, IGF-II expression was detected at very low levels in only 3 of 8 normal breast fibroblasts, but was present in 6 of 8 tumor fibroblasts. IGF-II mRNA was expressed in all skin fibroblasts tested.

IGF-II-negative stromal fibroblasts from normal breast, which were plated at low density and allowed to grow to confluence in the presence of MCF-7 breast tumor epithelial cells, demonstrated a marked increase in IGF-II mRNA expression. IGF-II in situ hybridization studies confirmed that IGF-II expression is seen at high levels in stroma of many invasive breast cancers but not normal breast. We conclude that paracrine influences, mediated by soluble factors released by breast tumor epithelium, are able to specifically increase expression of IGF-II in breast stroma, most likely by a process of clonal selection.

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Supported by NIH Grants CA 5503-01 and CA 58441-01, and United States Army Grant DAMD 17-93-J-3005.

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