Research Papers:

The relevance of using 3D cell cultures, in addition to 2D monolayer cultures, when evaluating breast cancer drug sensitivity and resistance

Susan Breslin _ and Lorraine O'Driscoll

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:45745-45756. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9935

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Susan Breslin1, Lorraine O’Driscoll1

1School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences & Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland

Correspondence to:

Lorraine O’Driscoll, email: [email protected]

Keywords: 3D cell culture, monolayer culture, breast cancer, targeted drugs, drug resistance mechanisms

Received: November 23, 2015    Accepted: May 28, 2016    Published: June 10, 2016


Solid tumours naturally grow in 3D wherein the spatial arrangement of cells affects how they interact with each other. This suggests that 3D cell culture may mimic the natural in vivo setting better than traditional monolayer (2D) cell culture, where cells are grown attached to plastic. Here, using HER2-positive breast cancer cell lines as models (BT474, HCC1954, EFM192A), the effects of culturing cells in 3D using the poly-HEMA method compared to 2D cultures were assessed in terms of cellular viability, response/resistance to anti-cancer drugs, protein expression and enzyme activity. Scanning electron microscopy showed the morphology of cells in 3D to be substantially different to those cultured in 2D. Cell viability in 3D cells was substantially lower than that of cells in 2D cultures, while 3D cultures were more resistant to the effects of HER-targeted (neratinib) and classical chemotherapy (docetaxel) drugs. Expression of proteins involved in cell survival, transporters associated with drug resistance and drug targets were increased in 3D cultures. Finally, activity of drug metabolising enzyme CYP3A4 was substantially increased in 3D compared to 2D cultures. Together this data indicates that the biological information represented by 3D and 2D cell cultures is substantially different i.e. 3D cell cultures demonstrate higher innate resistance to anti-cancer drugs compared to 2D cultures, which may be facilitated by the altered receptor proteins, drug transporters and metabolising enzyme activity. This highlights the importance of considering 3D in addition to 2D culture methods in pre-clinical studies of both newer targeted and more traditional anti-cancer drugs.

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PII: 9935