An Organotypic Mammary Duct Model Capturing Matrix Mechanics-Dependent Ductal Carcinoma in Situ Progression

Jonathan Kulwatno, Xiangyu Gong, Rebecca Devaux, Jason I. Herschkowitz, Kristen L. Mills*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a precancerous stage breast cancer, where abnormal cells are contained within the duct, but have not invaded into the surrounding tissue. However, only 30-40% of DCIS cases are likely to progress into an invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), while the remainder are innocuous. Since little is known about what contributes to the transition from DCIS to IDC, clinicians and patients tend to opt for treatment, leading to concerns of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. In vitro models are currently being used to probe how DCIS transitions into IDC, but many models do not take into consideration the macroscopic tissue architecture and the biomechanical properties of the microenvironment. In this study, we modeled an organotypic mammary duct as a channel molded in a collagen matrix and lined with basement membrane. By adjusting the concentration of collagen (4 and 8 mg/mL), we modulated the stiffness and morphological properties of the matrix and examined how an assortment of breast cells, including the isogenic MCF10 series that spans the range from healthy to aggressive, behaved within our model. We observed distinct characteristics of breast cancer progression such as hyperplasia and invasion. Normal mammary epithelial cells (MCF10A) formed a single-cell layer on the lumen surface, whereas the most aggressive (MCF10CA1) were several cell layers thick. The model captured collagen concentration-dependent protrusive behaviors by the MCF10A and MCF10CA1 cells, as well as a known invasive cell line (MDA-MB-231). The MCF10A and MCF10CA1 cells extended protrusions into the lower collagen concentration matrix, while the MDA-MB-231 cells fully invaded matrices of either collagen concentration but to a greater distance in the higher collagen concentration matrix. Our results show that the model can recapitulate different stages of breast cancer progression and that the MCF10 series is adaptable to physiologically relevant in vitro studies, demonstrating the potential of both the model and cell lines to elucidate key factors that may contribute to understanding the transition from DCIS to IDC. The success of early preventative measures for breast cancer has left patients susceptible to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Limited knowledge of factors driving an invasive transition has inspired the development of in vitro models that accurately capture this phenomenon. However, current models tend to neglect the macroscopic architecture and biomechanical properties of the mammary duct. In this study, we introduce an organotypic model that recapitulates the cylindrical geometry of the tissue and the altered stroma seen in tumor microenvironments. Our model was able to capture distinct features associated with breast cancer progression, demonstrating its potential to uncover novel insights into disease progression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-466
Number of pages13
JournalTissue Engineering - Part A.
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • DCIS
  • breast cancer
  • in vitro model
  • mammary duct


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