Endocrine Response Phenotypes Are Altered by Charcoal-Stripped Serum Variability

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Charcoal-stripped bovine serum (CSS) is a critical reagent in the study of steroid hormones. However, CSS has high lot-to-lot variability, including residual growth factor and steroid hormone content. Assessing and reporting this variability is challenging but may affect experimental outcomes and data reproducibility. We hypothesized that CSS lot variability would affect endocrine response phenotypes in breast cancer cells, and we tested the effects of five individual CSS lots on endocrine response in MCF-7 and MDA MB 134VI (MM134) cells. Based on the effects of antiestrogens on MCF-7 cell proliferation, we defined CSS lots as having complete vs partial hormone deprivation. In partial deprivation CSS, the absolute effects of residual estrogens on cell proliferation were modest, but these effects masked the partial agonist activity of 4-hydroxytamoxifen in MM134 cells. Importantly, this effectively reversed the interpretation of tamoxifen-resistance in MM134 cells. Variable effects of CSS lots on endocrine resistance phenotypes were also observed in MCF-7 cells. In this context, we observed that partial vs complete deprivation CSS allowed for the development of unique early endocrine resistance phenotypes that correlated with the presence or absence of residual estrogenic hormones. We evaluated the methods of CSS preparation and identified factors contributing to the extent of hormone deprivation. Our observations suggest that CSS lot-to-lot variability has substantial effects on endocrine response phenotypes and that this ubiquitous factor in study methodology may confound reproducibility. Renewed vigilance in testing and reporting CSS phenotypes will greatly aid in interpreting and reproducing endocrine response and resistance data by the community.

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