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MCF-7 Cells: A Cornerstone in Breast Cancer Research and Drug Testing

The MCF-7 cell line is a common in vitro model of breast cancer. It is widely used to study the biology of breast cancer. In addition, it is used to investigate drug resistance and develop new and efficient therapeutics against the disease.

This article contains all the necessary information to start working with the MCF-7 cell line. Mainly, the article will focus:

  1. MCF-7 cell line: Origin and general information
  2. Cell culture information of MCF-7 cells
  3. MCF-7 cells: Advantages and Limitations
  4. Research applications of MCF-7 cell line
  5. MCF-7 cells: Publications
  6. MCF-7 cells Resources: Protocols, Videos & More

1.      MCF-7 cell line: Origin and general information

Before working with the MCF-7 cell line, you must know about its origin, morphology, cell size, and other general characteristics. This section will help you learn all the basic concepts about MCF-7.

What is the MCF-7 cell line?

The MCF-7 cell line means Michigan Cancer Foundation –7. It was established by Dr. Soule from Michigan Cancer Foundation, Detroit, Michigan State. This cell line was isolated in 1970 from the pleural effusion of a sixty-nine-year-old Caucasian female having metastatic adenocarcinoma of the breast. MCF-7 is a Luminal A subtype of breast cancer that expresses estrogen, progesterone, and glucocorticoid receptors [1, 2]. 

MCF-7 are hormone-dependent breast cancer cells. These mammary epithelium cells have low metastatic potential and are poorly aggressive compared to hormone-independent MDA-MB-231 cells [3].



Morphology of MCF-7 cells

Epithelial-like morphology; cells grow as monolayers with strong cell-cell adhesions; cobblestone-like appearance

Cell size

Ranges between 19.9 μm and 33.9 μm

Genome and ploidy

Modal number of chromosomes: 82; Ploidy range: 66 to 87

MCF-7 cell line variants

MCF-7L, BK, B, KO, B, etc.; These variants exhibit different genetic profiles and gene expressions compared to original MCF-7 cells [4]

Breast cancer cells visualized by scanning electron microscopy.

2.      Cell culture information of MCF-7 cells

MCF-7 is a widely cultured cell line in breast cancer research laboratories. Before culturing these cells, many questions may arise in your brain such as what is the doubling time of MCF-7 cells? Are MCF-7 cells adherent? And what is the culture medium for MCF-7 cells? Here in this section, we will talk about the following key points.



Doubling time

The mean doubling time of MCF-7 cells is 24 hours

Adherent or in suspension

MCF-7 cells are adherent cells that grow as monolayers and form cell aggregates

Seeding density

Slow growing MCF-7 cells are seeded at a density of 3 x 104 cells/cm2. After removing the media, adherent MCF-7 cells are washed with 1 x PBS. Cells are detached using accutase passaging solution. Culture media is added, and cells are centrifuged. Cell pellets are resuspended and transferred to new flasks with fresh growth medium

Growth medium

Eagle's Minimum Essential Medium (EMEM) supplemented with 10% FBS and 2.5 mM L-glutamine is used for growing MCF-7 cells. Media is renewed 2 to 3 times per week

Growth conditions

MCF-7 cells are grown in a humidified incubator at 37°C in the presence of 5% CO2


Cells are stored in the vapour phase of liquid nitrogen (-195°C) to maintain cell viability for the longer term

Freezing process and medium

Slow freezing method is preferred for freezing MCF-7 cells, gradually reducing the temperature by 1°C to protect cell viability. The freezing media used for MCF-7 cells is CM-1 or CM-ACF

Thawing process

Frozen MCF-7 cells are rapidly agitated in a pre-warmed water bath (37°C) for 40-60 seconds. A small ice clump is left in the vial to keep it cool. Cells can be directly cultured in a flask with fresh growth medium or centrifuged to remove freezing media. The resulting cell pellet is carefully resuspended in fresh media and dispensed into flasks for growth

Biosafety level

Biosafety level 1 is used for handling triple-positive MCF-7 cells

MCF-7 cells in low and high confluency.

3.      MCF-7 cells: Advantages and Limitations

All cancer cell lines possess some pros and cons. So, what are the advantages of MCF-7 cells that make it attractive for research use? And what are the limitations of the MCF-7 cell line?


There are many advantages associated with the MCF-7 cell line. Here are a few imperative ones:

  • Well-characterized: MCF7 is a well-characterized breast cancer cell line, thus it is frequently used in cancer research laboratories.
  • Estrogen responsive: MCF-7 are estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells. They depend on estrogen for growth and proliferation. Moreover, these cells express higher mRNA levels of estrogen receptor-alpha (Erα) compared to ERβ. Due to this advantage, MCF-7 cells are extensively used to study the role of estrogen receptor signaling and breast cancer biology.
  • Hormone dependent: MCF-7 cells serve as a mimic of receptor-positive hormone-dependent breast cancer. Thus, it is a frequently used breast cancer study model.


The limitations commonly attributed to MCF-7 cells are:

  • Slow growth rate: Comparable to other breast cancer cell lines, MCF-7 cells grow slowly. Therefore, these cells are seeded at relatively high cell densities to carry out different cell culture experiments.
  • Bacterial contamination: Bacterial contamination is a common disadvantage of many human cell lines. When bacteria infect cells, the culture media gets unclear or turbid while the pH of the media also changes. Some bacteria like mycoplasma do not bring such changes they slowly spread in the culture and affect cell morphology and gene expression.

4.      Research applications of MCF-7 cell line

MCF-7 is a popular cell line. This section will enlighten a few prominent research applications of these breast cancer cells.

Drug resistance

Drug resistance development is a substantial challenge in cancer disease treatment. it may lead to a cancer relapse and reduced survival rate in patients. MCF-7 cells are extensively used in drug resistance studies. These cells are made resistant by exposure to high doses of drugs. A study has used original MCF7 cells and doxorubicin-resistant MCF-7 cells to understand the role of long non-coding RNA HOTAIR in regulating drug resistance [5]. Several studies have also been designed to mitigate drug resistance from cancer cells and make treatments effective [6, 7].

Development of chemotherapeutic drugs

MCF-7 cell line is broadly used for screening and development of new and more efficacious breast cancer treatments. Many natural products, synthetic compounds, and nanoparticles have been assessed for their anti-cancer potential using the MCF-7cell line [8-10].

Study breast cancer biology

MCF-7 cells are hormone-dependent breast cancer cells. These cells are frequently applied to study the underlying molecular mechanisms for cancer progression and development. Moreover, this breast cancer cell line is used to understand drug response mechanisms.

5.      MCF-7 cells: Publications

There is a plethora of publications on MCF-7 cells. This section will cover only some notable examples:

Knockdown of lncRNA‑HOTAIR downregulates the drug‑resistance of breast cancer cells to doxorubicin via the PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway

This article is published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine in 2019 by Zhixiang Li and colleagues. The study proposed that the knockdown of long non-coding RNA HOTAIR eliminates doxorubicin resistance in MCF-7 breast cancer cells by regulating PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway.

Guajadial reverses multidrug resistance by inhibiting ABC transporter expression and suppressing the PI3K/Akt pathway in drug-resistant breast cancer cells

This publication in the Chemico-Biological Interactions journal used parent and drug-resistant MCF-7 cells to study the effect of the Guajadial compound on drug resistance. This compound inhibits ABC transporter expression and downregulates PI3K/AKT pathway to reverse multi-drug resistance.

Synergistic interactions of cannabidiol with chemotherapeutic drugs in MCF7 cells: Mode of interaction and proteomics analysis of mechanisms

This published paper describes the synergistic interaction of cannabidiol and five chemotherapeutic drugs in MCF-7 cells. The study suggests cannabidiol-based synergistic adjuvant therapies for breast cancer treatment.

Phenolic composition of some Tunisian medicinal plants associated with anti-proliferative effect on human breast cancer MCF-7 cells

This article published in The EuroBiotech Journal used MCF-7 cells for evaluating the anti-tumor effect of phenolic compounds present in some Tunisian medicinal plants.

A novel biogenic Allium cepa leaf mediated silver nanoparticles for antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anticancer effects on MCF-7 cell line

The study proposed Allium cepa leaf extract-loaded green nanoparticles as a drug candidate. These nanoparticles exhibit anti-cancer and antioxidant activity in MCF-7 cells.

6.      MCF-7 cells Resources: Protocols, Videos & More

MCF-7 is frequently cultured breast cancer cell line. There are several available resources on this cell line explaining its handling, culturing, and transfection protocols.

Cell culture protocols

The following are some resources comprising information about MCF-7 cell culturing.

  • Cell splitting: This document will help you learn the cell passaging and thawing process for MCF-7.
  • MCF-7 cells: This article will provide all the basic and advanced knowledge about MCF-7 cells. It also includes MCF-7 cell culturing protocol.

Transfection protocols

Here are some sources comprising transfection methods for the MCF-7 cell line.

Videos related to MCF-7 cell line

There are many video resources on MCF-7 cells. Here we will talk about some related to the transfection and culturing of MCF-7.

We expect that this article guided you well about handling, subculturing, and maintenance of MCF-7 cells. In addition, it can help you learn about the advantages and research applications of this cell line. If you are planning to work on MCF-7 cells, order from us.


  1. Moon, H.-r., et al., Subtype-specific characterization of breast cancer invasion using a microfluidic tumor platform. PloS one, 2020. 15(6): p. e0234012.
  2. Hegde, S.M., et al., Interplay of nuclear receptors (ER, PR, and GR) and their steroid hormones in MCF-7 cells. Mol Cell Biochem, 2016. 422(1-2): p. 109-120.
  3. Comşa, Ş., A.M. Cimpean, and M. Raica, The story of MCF-7 breast cancer cell line: 40 years of experience in research. Anticancer research, 2015. 35(6): p. 3147-3154.
  4. Lee, A.V., S. Oesterreich, and N.E. Davidson, MCF-7 cells—changing the course of breast cancer research and care for 45 years. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2015. 107(7).
  5. Li, Z., et al., Knockdown of lncRNAHOTAIR downregulates the drugresistance of breast cancer cells to doxorubicin via the PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway. Experimental and therapeutic medicine, 2019. 18(1): p. 435-442.
  6. Li, Y., et al., Guajadial reverses multidrug resistance by inhibiting ABC transporter expression and suppressing the PI3K/Akt pathway in drug-resistant breast cancer cells. Chemico-Biological Interactions, 2019. 305: p. 98-104.
  7. Ruenraroengsak, P., et al., Frizzled-7-targeted delivery of zinc oxide nanoparticles to drug-resistant breast cancer cells. Nanoscale, 2019. 11(27): p. 12858-12870.
  8. Shrihastini, V., et al., Plant derived bioactive compounds, their anti-cancer effects and in silico approaches as an alternative target treatment strategy for breast cancer: An updated overview. Cancers, 2021. 13(24): p. 6222.
  9. Erdogan, O., et al., Green synthesis of silver nanoparticles via Cynara scolymus leaf extracts: The characterization, anticancer potential with photodynamic therapy in MCF7 cells. PloS one, 2019. 14(6): p. e0216496.
  10. Barbosa, A.M. and F. Martel, Targeting glucose transporters for breast cancer therapy: The effect of natural and synthetic compounds. Cancers, 2020. 12(1): p. 154.