A Long-Lived Luminal Subpopulation Enriched with Alveolar Progenitors Serves as Cellular Origin of Heterogeneous Mammary Tumors


It has been shown that the mammary luminal lineage could be maintained by luminal stem cells or long-lived progenitors, but their identity and role in breast cancer remain largely elusive. By lineage analysis using Wap-Cre mice, we found that, in nulliparous females, mammary epithelial cells (MECs) genetically marked by Wap-Cre represented a subpopulation of CD61+ luminal progenitors independent of ovarian hormones for their maintenance. Using a pulse-chase lineage-tracing approach based on Wap-Cre adenovirus (Ad-Wap-Cre), we found that Ad-Wap-Cre-marked nulliparous MECs were enriched with CD61+ alveolar progenitors (APs) that gave rise to CD61- alveolar luminal cells during pregnancy/lactation and could maintain themselves long term. When transformed by different oncogenes, they could serve as cells of origin of heterogeneous mammary tumors. Thus, our study revealed a type of long-lived AP within the luminal lineage that may serve as the cellular origin of multiple breast cancer subtypes.