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Oncogene. 2011 Oct 27;30(43):4399-409. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.147. Epub 2011 May 2.

Keratin 6a marks mammary bipotential progenitor cells that can give rise to a unique tumor model resembling human normal-like breast cancer.

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  • 1Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Progenitor cells are considered an important cell of origin of human malignancies. However, there has not been any single gene that can define mammary bipotential progenitor cells, and as such it has not been possible to use genetic methods to introduce oncogenic alterations into these cells in vivo to study tumorigenesis from them. Keratin 6a is expressed in a subset of mammary luminal epithelial cells and body cells of terminal end buds. By generating transgenic mice using the Keratin 6a (K6a) gene promoter to express tumor virus A (tva), which encodes the receptor for avian leukosis virus subgroup A (ALV/A), we provide direct evidence that K6a(+) cells are bipotential progenitor cells, and the first demonstration of a non-basal location for some biopotential progenitor cells. These K6a(+) cells were readily induced to form mammary tumors by intraductal injection of RCAS (an ALV/A-derived vector) carrying the gene encoding the polyoma middle T antigen. Tumors in this K6a-tva line were papillary and resembled the normal breast-like subtype of human breast cancer. This is the first model of this subtype of human tumors and thus may be useful for preclinical testing of targeted therapy for patients with normal-like breast cancer. These observations also provide direct in vivo evidence for the hypothesis that the cell of origin affects mammary tumor phenotypes.

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