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PLoS One. 2013 Nov 12;8(11):e78720. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078720. eCollection 2013.

Mammary cells with active Wnt signaling resist ErbB2-induced tumorigenesis.

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Lester & Sue Smith Breast Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, United States of America ; Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, United States of America.


Aberrant activation of Wnt signaling is frequent in human malignancies. In normal epithelial tissues, including the breast, Wnt signaling is active only in a subset of cells, but it is unknown whether this subset of Wnt signaling-active cells is at increased risk of carcinogenesis. We created transgenic mice (TOP-tva) in which the synthetic Wnt-responsive promoter TOP controlled the gene encoding TVA, which confers susceptibility to infection by the retroviral vector RCAS. Thus, only cells in which Wnt signaling is active will express tva and be targeted by RCAS. Surprisingly, we found that RCAS-mediated delivery of cDNA encoding a constitutively activated version of ErbB2 (HER2/Neu) into the small number of TVA+ mammary epithelial cells in TOP-tva mice failed to induce tumor, while the same virus readily induced mammary tumors after it was delivered into a comparable number of cells in our previously reported mouse line MMTV-tva, whose tva is broadly expressed in mammary epithelium. Furthermore, we could not even detect any early lesions or infected cells in TOP-tva mice at the time of necropsy. Therefore, we conclude that the Wnt pathway-active cell subset in the normal mammary epithelium does not evolve into tumors following ErbB2 activation-rather, they apparently die due to apoptosis, an anticancer "barrier" that we have reported to be erected in some mammary cells followed ErbB2 activation. In accord with these mouse model data, we found that unlike the basal subtype, ErbB2+ human breast cancers rarely involve aberrant activation of Wnt signaling. This is the first report of a defined sub-population of mammalian cells that is "protected" from tumorigenesis by a potent oncogene, and provides direct in vivo evidence that mammary epithelial cells are not equal in their response to oncogene-initiated transformation.

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