I have used the paradigm of mammary cancer induction by the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) to illustrate the body of evidence that supports the hypothesis that mammary epithelial stem/progenitor cells represent targets for oncogenic transformation. Further, it is argued that this is not a special case applicable only to MMTV-induced mammary cancer, because MMTV acts as an environmental mutagen producing random interruptions in the somatic DNA of infected cells by insertion of proviral DNA copies. In addition to disrupting the host genome, the proviral DNA also influences gene expression through its associated enhancer sequences over significant inter-genome distances. Genes commonly affected by MMTV insertion in multiple individual tumors include the Wnt genes, the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) gene family, and the Notch gene family. All of these gene families are known to play essential roles in stem cell maintenance and behavior in a variety of organs. The MMTV-induced mutations accumulate in cells that are long-lived and possess the properties of stem cells, namely, self-renewal and the capacity to produce divergent epithelial progeny through asymmetric division. The evidence shows that epithelial cells with these properties are present in normal mammary glands, may be infected with MMTV, and become transformed to produce epithelial hyperplasia through MMTV-induced mutagenesis and progress to frank mammary malignancy. Retroviral marking via MMTV proviral insertion demonstrates that this process progresses from a single mammary epithelial cell that possesses all the features ascribed to tissue-specific stem cells.
Index EntriesStem cell MMTV mammary cancer transplantation mice
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