Zoledronic acid blocks the interaction between breast cancer cells and regulatory T-cells

Hsien Liu, Shih Han Wang, Shin Cheh Chen, Ching Ying Chen, Tsun Mei Lin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Zoledronic acid (ZA), a nitrogen-containing bisphosphonate, inhibits osteoclastogenesis. Emerging evidence suggests that ZA has anti-tumor and anti-metastatic properties for breast cancer cells. In a mouse model of ZA-related osteonecrosis of the jaw, ZA administration was found to suppress regulatory T-cells (Tregs) function. Our previous reports also demonstrated ZA acted as an immune modulator to block Tregs. Manipulation of Tregs represents a new strategy for cancer treatment. However, the relationship among ZA, Tregs, and cancer cells remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the effects of ZA on the interaction of breast cancer cells and Tregs. Methods: The anti-tumor effect of ZA on triple negative breast cancer cell lines were validated by XTT, wound healing and apoptosis analysis. A flow cytometry-based assay was used to analyze the immunosuppressive effect of Tregs treated with media conditioned by breast cancer cells, and a transwell assay was used to evaluate the chemotactic migration of Tregs. Differential gene expression profile on MDA-MB-231 treated with ZA (25 μM) was analyzed by. microarrays to describe the molecular basis of actions of ZA for possible direct anti-tumor effects. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and quantitative real-time PCR were used to investigate the effect of ZA on the expression of cytokines/factors by breast cancer cells. Results: ZA was found to inhibit the proliferation and migration of breast cancer cells. Media conditioned by the MDA-MB-231 cells promoted the expansion, chemotactic migration, and immunosuppressive activity of Tregs, and these effects were attenuated in a dose-dependent manner by ZA treatment, and the attenuation was due to reduced expression of selected breast cancer cell factors (CCL2, CCL5, and IDO). Conclusions: ZA can significantly affect the interaction between breast cancer cells and Tregs. Our findings indicate that ZA is a potential therapeutic agent that can be used to reduce cancer aggressiveness by abolishing the supportive role of Tregs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number176
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - 26 02 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Breast cancer
  • Immunomodulation
  • Regulatory T-cells
  • Zoledronic acid


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