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Within human carcinomas, there is often an infiltration of lymphocytes and other cells of the immune system. A variety of cytokines are produced by such cells that could have a paracrine influence on the growth of tumor epithelium. The effect of one of these cytokines, interleukin-4 (IL-4), on human breast and colon cancer cell lines was therefore examined. IL-4 inhibited the growth of human colon (HT 29) and breast [MCF-7 wild type (MCF-7 WT), MCF-7 Adriamycin-resistant (MCF-7r), MDA-MB-231, and MDA-MB-468] carcinoma cells in culture. Competitive binding of 125I-IL-4 demonstrated the presence of 2000 high affinity IL-4-binding sites on HT 29 cells. The Kd for specific binding of 125I-IL-4 to HT 29 cells was 77 pM. Further studies were conducted on the estrogen-dependent MCF-7 WT and estrogen-independent MDA-MB-231 breast carcinoma lines. Concentrations of IL-4 of 10-100 nM were required to significantly inhibit growth of these carcinoma cell lines; e.g., with MCF-7 WT cells, half-maximal inhibition of growth occurred at 20 nM IL-4. Specific binding of 125I-IL-4 was detected to MCF-7 WT and MDA-MB-231 cells, but the low level of binding precluded Scatchard analysis. IL-4 inhibited 90% of the 17 beta-estradiol-stimulated growth of MCF-7 WT cells in a dose-dependent manner but without a change in estrogen receptor expression. Inhibition of growth by IL-4 was less in the absence of estrogens. Combined treatment with IL-4 and other known inhibitors of breast carcinoma cell growth [transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) and the antiestrogen tamoxifen] showed additive inhibition. The hormone-independent cell lines MCF-7r and MDA-MB-231 were additively inhibited by IL-4 and TGF-beta 1. This was not the case with MDA-MB-468 cells in which inhibition by IL-4 and TGF-beta 1 was of similar magnitude but no significantly greater effect was observed on combined treatment. No secretion of IL-4 was detected from these cell lines either basally or on treatment with TGF-beta 1 or tamoxifen, and we conclude that IL-4 is a nonautocrine inhibitor of breast carcinoma cell growth.


Journal article


Cancer Res

Publication Date





275 - 279


Breast Neoplasms, Cell Division, Colonic Neoplasms, Drug Synergism, Estradiol, Growth Inhibitors, Humans, In Vitro Techniques, Interleukin-4, Recombinant Proteins, Tamoxifen, Transforming Growth Factor beta, Tumor Cells, Cultured