Breast cancer is a complex and heterogeneous disease. Gene expression profiling has contributed significantly to our understanding of this heterogeneity at a molecular level, refining taxonomy based on simple measures such as histological type, tumour grade, lymph node status and the presence of predictive markers like oestrogen receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) to a more sophisticated classification comprising luminal A, luminal B, basal-like, HER2-positive and normal subgroups. In the laboratory, breast cancer is often modelled using established cell lines. In the present review we discuss some of the issues surrounding the use of breast cancer cell lines as experimental models, in light of these revised clinical classifications, and put forward suggestions for improving their use in translational breast cancer research.
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