Human Mammary Epithelial Stem/Progenitor Cells

  • Patricia J. Keller
  • Lisa M. Arendt
  • Charlotte Kuperwasser


Human breast tissue is highly dynamic, undergoing extensive development and differentiation after birth during puberty, pregnancy, and lactation. The ability to sustain the tissue through, potentially, multiple rounds of pregnancies and lactations in a woman’s lifetime suggests the presence of tissue-resident stem/progenitor cells that maintain the two main lineages of the breast epithelium, luminal and basal/myoepithelial cells. Although human breast tissue is functionally similar to the murine mammary gland, structural and developmental differences suggest that the organization and regulation of the epithelial hierarchy in humans may be more complex. Taking cues from studies of mouse and rat mammary gland biology, much research effort has been expended into characterizing the human breast epithelial hierarchy. The use of epithelial cell surface markers coupled with assays to define progenitor activity in vitro and in vivo has greatly expanded our understanding. While the full picture of the human mammary hierarchy is still incomplete, it is instructive for the understanding of heterogeneity in breast cancers and how this may relate to patient treatments and outcomes.


Luminal Epithelial Cell Human Breast Tissue Luminal Progenitor Metaplastic Breast Cancer Luminal Lineage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Aldehyde dehydrogenase


Alpha smooth muscle actin


Common acute lymphoblastic leukemia antigen




Epidermal growth factor


Epithelial membrane antigen


Epithelial cell adhesion molecule


Estrogen receptor


Epithelial-specific antigen




Human mammary epithelial cell


Mammary stem cell




Mammary repopulating units




Progesterone receptor


Terminal ductal lobular unit


Terminal end bud


Variant human mammary epithelial cell



We apologize to the authors whose work we could not cite due to space limitations. This work was supported by grants from the ACS-New England Division-Broadway on Beachside Postdoctoral Fellowship (PK), the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation (PK and CK), the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (CK), the DOD Breast Cancer Research Program (PK, CK), the NIH/NCI (CK, LA), the National Center for Research Resources (LA), and the Breast Cancer Alliance (LA).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia J. Keller
    • 1
  • Lisa M. Arendt
    • 2
  • Charlotte Kuperwasser
    • 3
  1. 1.Anatomy and Cellular Biology and Molecular Oncology Research InstituteTufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical CenterBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnatomyBostonUSA
  3. 3.Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Molecular Oncology Research InstituteTufts University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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