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The origin and nature of osteoclast-like multinucleated giant cells (OMGCs), in extraskeletal neoplasms, is uncertain. The ultrastructure, antigenic phenotype and function of OMGCsm in a breast carcinoma were studied in order to clarify the relationship between OMGCs, osteoclasts and other cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS). OMGCs resorbed cortical bone in a manner similar to osteoclasts. However, unlike osteoclasts, OMGCs did not possess a ruffled border or clear zone, and expressed HLA-DR and Fc receptors and CD14, CD16, CD18 and CD11 (p150,95) antigens. In addition, OMGCs failed to respond morphologically to calcitonin and were directly stimulated by parathyroid hormone (PTH) to increase bone resorption. These findings suggest that OMGCs are a specific type of macrophage polykaryon distinct from both osteoclasts and other types of inflammatory polykaryon. Occasional smaller (20-25 microns) macrophage-like cells were also associated with resorption pits. Bone resorption by OMGCs isolated from the breast indicates that a cell of the MPS can be transplanted to a new tissue location and perform a highly specialised function appropriate to an MPS cell of that tissue (i.e. the osteoclast). PTH stimulation of bone resorption by OMGCs suggests that PTH or a PTH-like protein, may be involved in the bone resorption and consequent hypercalcaemia associated with metastatic breast cancer.

Original publication




Journal article


Br j cancer

Publication Date





491 - 498


Antigens, Differentiation, Antigens, Neoplasm, Breast Neoplasms, Calcitonin, Female, Humans, Macrophages, Middle Aged, Osteoclasts, Osteolysis, Parathyroid Hormone, Tumor Cells, Cultured