Maintenance of Cell Type Diversification in the Human Breast

  • Agla Jael Rubner Fridriksdottir
  • René Villadsen
  • Thorarinn Gudjonsson
  • Ole William Petersen


Recent genome-wide expression analysis of breast cancer has brought new life to the classical idea of tumors as caricatures of the process of tissue renewal as envisioned by Pierce and Speers (Cancer Res 1988;48:1996–2004) more than a decade ago. The search for a cancer founder cell or different cancer founder cells is only possible if a hierarchy of differentiation has been established for the particular tissue in question. In the human breast, the luminal epithelial and myoepithelial lineages have been characterized extensively in situ by increasingly elaborate panel of markers, and methods to isolate, culture, and clone different subpopulations have improved dramatically. Comparisons have been made with the mouse mammary gland in physiological three-dimensional culture assays of morphogenesis, and the plasticity of breast epithelial cells has been challenged by immortalization and transformation. As a result of these efforts, several candidate progenitor cells have been proposed independently of each other, and some of their features have been compared. This research has all been done to better understand breast tissue homeostasis, cell-type diversification in general and breast cancer evolution in particular. The present review discusses the current approaches to address these issues and the measures taken to unravel and maintain cell type diversification for further investigation.

human breast epithelium lineages hierarchy differentiation plasticity morphogenesis 

Abbreviations used


terminal duct lobular unit


epithelial specific antigen




common acute lymphoblastic leukemia antigen


α-smooth muscle actin


side population


small light cell


undifferentiated large light cell


differentiated large light cell


large dark cell


reconstituted basement membrane


estrogen receptor-α


progesterone receptor






human papilloma virus-16


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Agla Jael Rubner Fridriksdottir
    • 1
  • René Villadsen
    • 1
  • Thorarinn Gudjonsson
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ole William Petersen
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Structural Cell Biology UnitInstitute of Medical Anatomy, The Panum InstituteCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Molecular and Cell Biology Research LaboratoryIcelandic Cancer SocietyReykjavikIceland
  3. 3.Faculty of Medical ScienceUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  4. 4.Structural Cell Biology UnitInstitute of Medical Anatomy, The Panum InstituteCopenhagen NDenmark

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