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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mapping the cellular and molecular heterogeneity of normal and malignant breast tissues and cultured cell lines

Patricia J Keller12, Amy F Lin12, Lisa M Arendt12, Ina Klebba12, Ainsley D Jones12, Jenny A Rudnick12, Theresa A DiMeo12, Hannah Gilmore3, Douglas M Jefferson4, Roger A Graham5, Stephen P Naber6, Stuart Schnitt3 and Charlotte Kuperwasser12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anatomy & Cellular Biology, Sackler School, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02111, USA

2 Molecular Oncology Research Institute, Tufts Medical Center, 75 Kneeland St, Boston, MA 02111, USA

3 Department of Pathology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA

4 Department of Physiology, Sackler School, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02111, USA

5 Department of Surgery, Tufts Medical Center, 750 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111, USA

6 Department of Pathology, Tufts Medical Center, 750 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111, USA

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Breast Cancer Research 2010, 12:R87  doi:10.1186/bcr2755


See related editorial by Haviv, http://breast-cancer-research.com/content/13/1/102

Published: 21 October 2010

Abstract

Introduction

Normal and neoplastic breast tissues are comprised of heterogeneous populations of epithelial cells exhibiting various degrees of maturation and differentiation. While cultured cell lines have been derived from both normal and malignant tissues, it remains unclear to what extent they retain similar levels of differentiation and heterogeneity as that found within breast tissues.

Methods

We used 12 reduction mammoplasty tissues, 15 primary breast cancer tissues, and 20 human breast epithelial cell lines (16 cancer lines, 4 normal lines) to perform flow cytometry for CD44, CD24, epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM), and CD49f expression, as well as immunohistochemistry, and in vivo tumor xenograft formation studies to extensively analyze the molecular and cellular characteristics of breast epithelial cell lineages.

Results

Human breast tissues contain four distinguishable epithelial differentiation states (two luminal phenotypes and two basal phenotypes) that differ on the basis of CD24, EpCAM and CD49f expression. Primary human breast cancer tissues also contain these four cellular states, but in altered proportions compared to normal tissues. In contrast, cultured cancer cell lines are enriched for rare basal and mesenchymal epithelial phenotypes, which are normally present in small numbers within human tissues. Similarly, cultured normal human mammary epithelial cell lines are enriched for rare basal and mesenchymal phenotypes that represent a minor fraction of cells within reduction mammoplasty tissues. Furthermore, although normal human mammary epithelial cell lines exhibit features of bi-potent progenitor cells they are unable to differentiate into mature luminal breast epithelial cells under standard culture conditions.

Conclusions

As a group breast cancer cell lines represent the heterogeneity of human breast tumors, but individually they exhibit increased lineage-restricted profiles that fall short of truly representing the intratumoral heterogeneity of individual breast tumors. Additionally, normal human mammary epithelial cell lines fail to retain much of the cellular diversity found in human breast tissues and are enriched for differentiation states that are a minority in breast tissues, although they do exhibit features of bi-potent basal progenitor cells. These findings suggest that collections of cell lines representing multiple cell types can be used to model the cellular heterogeneity of tissues.