Breast epithelial tissue morphology is affected in 3D cultures by species-specific collagen-based extracellular matrix

Eugen Dhimolea, Ana M. Soto, Carlos Sonnenschein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Collagen-based gels have been widely used to determine the factors that regulate branching morphogenesis in the mammary gland. The patterns of biomechanical gradients and collagen reorganization influence the shape and orientation of epithelial structures in three-dimensional (3D) conditions. We explored in greater detail whether collagen type I fibers with distinct biomechanical and fiber-Assembling properties, isolated from either bovine or rat tail tendon, differentially affected the epithelial phenotype in a tissue culture model of the human breast. Rat tail collagen fibers were densely packed into significantly longer and thicker bundles compared to those of the bovine type (average fascicle length 7.35 and 2.29 μm, respectively; p = 0.0001), indicating increased fiber alignment and biomechanical enablement in the former. MCF10A epithelial cells formed elaborated branched tubular structures in bovine but only nonbranched ducts and acini in rat tail collagen matrices. Ductal branching in bovine collagen was associated with interactions between neighboring structures mediated through packed collagen fibers; these fiber-mediated interactions were absent in rat tail collagen gels. Normal breast fibroblasts increased the final size and number of ducts only in rat tail collagen gels while not affecting branching. Our results suggest that the species of origin of collagen used in organotypic cultures may influence epithelial differentiation into alveolar or ductal structures and the patterns of epithelial branching. These observations underscore the importance of considering the species of origin and fiber alignment properties of collagen when engineering branching organs in 3D matrices and interpreting their role in the tissue phenotype.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2905-2912
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part A
Volume100 A
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • 3d culture
  • Branching morphogenesis
  • Collagen
  • Fiber alignment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Metals and Alloys


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