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Int J Exp Pathol. 1998 Aug;79(4):193-206.

Stem cells in breast epithelia.

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Cancer and Polio Research Fund Laboratories, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK.


The rodent and human nonpregnant mammary glands contain epithelial, intermediate and myoepithelial cells which have all been isolated as cell lines in vitro. Transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF alpha) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) are produced by myoepithelial cells and can stimulate the growth of intermediate stem cells in vitro. Epithelial and intermediate cells behave like stem cells in vitro, since they can differentiate into alveolar-like an myoepithelial cells. The myoepithelial differentiation pathway is associated with the early expression of a calcium-binding regulatory protein called p9Ka and the protease, Cathepsin D. Myoepithelial cells are also present in benign lesions but not in malignant mammary carcinomas of rats or humans, whose resultant cell lines fail to differentiate completely along the myoepithelial cell pathway. Loss of the myoepithelial cell in some invasive carcinomas may be compensated, at least in part, by changes in malignant cells. Over-expression of TGF alpha and/or erbB receptors may reduce the requirement for TGF alpha, whilst ectopic production of bFGF and its receptors and p9Ka/Cathespin D may assist in tumorigenesis and in metastasis, respectively. Thus compensation for, or retention of, molecules potentially involved in the differentiation of mammary cells may be a mechanism by which malignancy progresses in some human invasive carcinomas.

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