Inter- and intralobular mammary fibroblasts have been separated from normal human breast tissue and cultured to study the differential expression of ectoenzymes present within the stroma of the normal gland and associated with breast cancers. Specific ectoenzymes were identified by indirect immunofluorescence and quantified by flow cytometry and semi-quantitative PCR. A consistent difference was noted between the two fibroblast sub-populations at early passage in respect of dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP IV) and aminopeptidase N (APN) expression. Early passage intralobular fibroblasts were positive for APN but negative for DPP IV, as seen in the intact tissue. However, with continued sub-culture they gradually began to express DPP IV, until at later passages they became indistinguishable from the interlobular fibroblasts, which were APN and DPP IV-positive at all stages in culture, as they are in intact tissue. Neutral endopeptidase (NEP/CALLA/CD10) is not expressed by normal adult breast fibroblasts but is found in the stroma associated with over 60% of breast cancers. It was up-regulated in vitro on both inter- and intralobular fibroblasts, with final levels that were significantly (< 14 times) higher on the former in all pairs of preparations from individual donors analysed. This difference persisted with continued passage, and levels of the ectoenzyme and its messenger RNA were further up-regulated by hydrocortisone in both populations. These results demonstrate that phenotypically distinct cultures of human mammary fibroblast sub-populations can be used to study the regulation of these stromal ectoenzymes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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