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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Bone invading NSCLC cells produce IL-7: mice model and human histologic data

Ilaria Roato1, Davide Caldo123*, Laura Godio4, Lucia D'Amico1, Paolo Giannoni5, Emanuela Morello6, Rodolfo Quarto3, Luigi Molfetta7, Paolo Buracco6, Antonio Mussa8 and Riccardo Ferracini12

Author Affiliations

1 CeRMS (Center for Experimental Research and Medical Studies) University of Turin and A.O.U. San Giovanni Battista, Turin, Italy

2 Department of Orthopaedics, A.O.U. San Giovanni Battista, Turin, Italy

3 Department of Experimental Medicine (DIMES), University of Genoa, Italy

4 Department of Pathology, A.O.U. San Giovanni Battista, Turin, Italy

5 ABC Advanced Biotechnology Center, Genoa, Italy

6 Department of Animal Pathology, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy

7 University of Genoa - Department of Motor Sciences, Italy

8 Department of Medical Oncology, A.O.U. San Giovanni Battista, Turin, Italy

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:12  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-12

Published: 12 January 2010



Bone metastases are a common and dismal consequence of lung cancer that is a leading cause of death. The role of IL-7 in promoting bone metastases has been previously investigated in NSCLC, but many aspects remain to be disclosed. To further study IL-7 function in bone metastasis, we developed a human-in-mice model of bone aggression by NSCLC and analyzed human bone metastasis biopsies.


We used NOD/SCID mice implanted with human bone. After bone engraftment, two groups of mice were injected subcutaneously with A549, a human NSCLC cell line, either close or at the contralateral flank to the human bone implant, while a third control group did not receive cancer cells. Tumor and bone vitality and IL-7 expression were assessed in implanted bone, affected or not by A549. Serum IL-7 levels were evaluated by ELISA. IL-7 immunohistochemistry was performed on 10 human bone NSCLC metastasis biopsies for comparison.


At 12 weeks after bone implant, we observed osteogenic activity and neovascularization, confirming bone vitality. Tumor aggressive cells implanted close to human bone invaded the bone tissue. The bone-aggressive cancer cells were positive for IL-7 staining both in the mice model and in human biopsies. Higher IL-7 serum levels were found in mice injected with A549 cells close to the bone implant compared to mice injected with A549 cells in the flank opposite to the bone implant.


We demonstrated that bone-invading cells express and produce IL-7, which is known to promote osteoclast activation and osteolytic lesions. Tumor-bone interaction increases IL-7 production, with an increase in IL-7 serum levels. The presented mice model of bone invasion by contiguous tumor is suitable to study bone-tumor cell interaction. IL-7 plays a role in the first steps of metastatic process.