Comparative molecular analysis of cancer behavior cultured in vitro, in vivo, and ex vivo

Nicholas R. Hum, Aimy Sebastian, Sean F. Gilmore, Wei He, Kelly A. Martin, Aubree Hinckley, Karen R. Dubbin, Monica L. Moya, Elizabeth K. Wheeler, Matthew A. Coleman, Gabriela G. Loots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Current pre-clinical models of cancer fail to recapitulate the cancer cell behavior in primary tumors primarily because of the lack of a deeper understanding of the effects that the microenvironment has on cancer cell phenotype. Transcriptomic profiling of 4T1 murine mammary carcinoma cells from 2D and 3D cultures, subcutaneous or orthotopic allografts (from immunocompetent or immunodeficient mice), as well as ex vivo tumoroids, revealed differences in molecular signatures including altered expression of genes involved in cell cycle progression, cell signaling and extracellular matrix remodeling. The 3D culture platforms had more in vivo-like transcriptional profiles than 2D cultures. In vivo tumors had more cells undergoing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) while in vitro cultures had cells residing primarily in an epithelial or mesenchymal state. Ex vivo tumoroids incorporated aspects of in vivo and in vitro culturing, retaining higher abundance of cells undergoing EMT while shifting cancer cell fate towards a more mesenchymal state. Cellular heterogeneity surveyed by scRNA-seq revealed that ex vivo tumoroids, while rapidly expanding cancer and fibroblast populations, lose a significant proportion of immune components. This study emphasizes the need to improve in vitro culture systems and preserve syngeneic-like tumor composition by maintaining similar EMT heterogeneity as well as inclusion of stromal subpopulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number690
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • 4T1
  • EMT
  • Monolayer culture
  • PDX
  • RNA-seq
  • Single-cell RNA-seq
  • Spheroid
  • Syngeneic culture
  • TNBC
  • Tumoroid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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