Epithelial Progenitors in the Normal Human Mammary Gland

  • John Stingl
  • Afshin Raouf
  • Joanne T. Emerman
  • Connie J. EavesEmail author


The human mammary gland is organized developmentally as a hierarchy of progenitor cells that become progressively restricted in their proliferative abilities and lineage options. Three types of human mammary epithelial cell progenitors are now identified. The first is thought to be a luminal-restricted progenitor; in vitro under conditions that support both luminal and myoepithelial cell differentiation, this cell produces clones of differentiating daughter cells that are exclusively positive for markers characteristic of luminal cells produced in vivo (i.e., keratins 8/18 and 19, epithelial cell adhesion molecule [EpCAM] and MUC1). The second type is a bipotent progenitor. It is identified by its ability to produce “mixed” colonies in single cell assays. These colonies contain a central core of cells expressing luminal markers surrounded by cells with a morphology and markers (e.g., keratin 14+) characteristic of myoepithelial cells. Serial passage in vitro of an enriched population of bipotent progenitors promotes the expansion of a third type of progenitor that is thought to be myoepithelial-restricted because it only produces cells with myoepithelial features. Luminal-restricted and bipotent progenitors can prospectively be isolated as distinct subpopulations from freshly dissociated suspensions of normal human mammary cells. Both are distinguished from many other cell types in mammary tissue by their expression of EpCAM and CD49f (α6 integrin). They are distinguished from each other by their differential expression of MUC1, which is expressed at much higher levels on the luminal progenitors. To relate the role of these progenitors to the generation of the three-dimensional tubuloalveolar structure of the mammary tree produced in vivo, we propose a model in which the commitment to the luminal versus the myoepithelial lineage may play a determining role in the generation of alveoli and ducts.

mammary stem cells colony assays flow cytometry cell culture 

Abbreviations used


epithelial cell adhesion molecule


terminal ductal lobular unit


terminal end bud


smooth muscle actin


small light cell




mammary stem cell


human mammary epithelial cell


mammary colony-forming cell


luminal-restricted progenitor


myoepithelialrestricted progenitor


bipotent progenitor


common acute lymphoblastic leukemia antigen


epithelial specific antigen


histo-blood group antigen H type 2


epidermal growth factor


fluorescenceactivated cell sorting


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Stingl
    • 1
    • 2
  • Afshin Raouf
    • 1
  • Joanne T. Emerman
    • 3
  • Connie J. Eaves
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Terry Fox LaboratoryBritish Columbia Cancer AgencyVancouverCanada
  2. 2.StemCell Technologies Inc.VancouverCanada
  3. 3.Department of Anatomy and Cell BiologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.The Terry Fox LaboratoryVancouverCanada

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