Studying the effects of tumor-secreted paracrine ligands on macrophage activation using co-culture with permeable membrane supports

Academic Article


  • Tumor-derived paracrine signaling is an overlooked component of local immunosuppression and can lead to a permissive environment for continued cancer growth and metastasis. Paracrine signals can involve cell-cell contact between different cell types, such as PD-L1 expressed on the surface of tumors interacting directly with PD-1 on the surface of T cells, or the secretion of ligands by a tumor cell to affect an immune cell. Here we describe a co-culture method to interrogate the effects of tumor-secreted ligands on immune cell (macrophage) activation. This straightforward procedure utilizes commercially available 0.4 µm polycarbonate membrane permeable supports and standard tissue culture plates. In the process described, macrophages are cultured in the upper chamber and tumor cells in the lower chamber. The presence of the 0.4 µm barrier allows for the study of intercellular signaling without the confounding variable of physical contact, because the two cell types share the same medium and exposure to paracrine ligands. This approach can be combined with others, such as genetic alterations of the macrophage (e.g., isolation from genetic knock-out mice) or tumor (e.g., CRISPR-mediated alterations) to study the role of specific secreted factors and receptors. The approach also lends itself to standard molecular biological analyses such as quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) or Western blot analysis, without the need for flow sorting to separate the two cell populations. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) can similarly be utilized to measure secreted ligands to better understand the dynamic interaction of cell signaling in the multiple cell type context. Duration of co-culture can also be varied for the study of temporally regulated events. This co-culture method is a robust tool that facilitates the study of tumor-secreted signals in the immune context.
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    Author List

  • Pittman K; Earp S; Ubil E
  • Volume

  • 2019
  • Issue

  • 153