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Open Access Research article

Degranulating mast cells in fibrotic regions of human tumors and evidence that mast cell heparin interferes with the growth of tumor cells through a mechanism involving fibroblasts

Michael Samoszuk1*, Emi Kanakubo1 and John K Chan2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California, Irvine, California USA

2 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Stanford University, Stanford, California USA

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BMC Cancer 2005, 5:121  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-5-121

Published: 21 September 2005

Abstract

Background

The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that mast cells that are present in fibrotic regions of cancer can suppress the growth of tumor cells through an indirect mechanism involving peri-tumoral fibroblasts.

Methods

We first immunostained a wide variety of human cancers for the presence of degranulated mast cells. In a subsequent series of controlled in vitro experiments, we then co-cultured UACC-812 human breast cancer cells with normal fibroblasts in the presence or absence of different combinations and doses of mast cell tryptase, mast cell heparin, a lysate of the human mast cell line HMC-1, and fibroblast growth factor-7 (FGF-7), a powerful, heparin-binding growth factor for breast epithelial cells.

Results

Degranulating mast cells were localized predominantly in the fibrous tissue of every case of breast cancer, head and neck cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Hodgkin's disease that we examined. Mast cell tryptase and HMC-1 lysate had no significant effect on the clonogenic growth of cancer cells co-cultured with fibroblasts. By contrast, mast cell heparin at multiple doses significantly reduced the size and number of colonies of tumor cells co-cultured with fibroblasts, especially in the presence of FGF-7. Neither heparin nor FGF-7, individually or in combination, produced any significant effect on the clonogenic growth of breast cancer cells cultured without fibroblasts.

Conclusion

Degranulating mast cells are restricted to peri-tumoral fibrous tissue, and mast cell heparin is a powerful inhibitor of clonogenic growth of tumor cells co-cultured with fibroblasts. These results may help to explain the well-known ability of heparin to inhibit the growth of primary and metastatic tumors.