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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

NOTCH1 inhibition in vivo results in mammary tumor regression and reduced mammary tumorsphere-forming activity in vitro

Matthew J Simmons1, Ryan Serra2, Nicole Hermance1 and Michelle A Kelliher1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cancer Biology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 364 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA 01605 USA

2 Program in Gene Function and Expression, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 364 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA 01605 USA

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Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R126  doi:10.1186/bcr3321

Published: 19 September 2012

Abstract

Introduction

NOTCH activation has been recently implicated in human breast cancers, associated with a poor prognosis, and tumor-initiating cells are hypothesized to mediate resistance to treatment and disease relapse. To address the role of NOTCH1 in mammary gland development, transformation, and mammary tumor-initiating cell activity, we developed a doxycycline-regulated mouse model of NOTCH1-mediated mammary transformation.

Methods

Mammary gland development was analyzed by using whole-mount analysis and by flow cytometry in nulliparous transgenic mice maintained in the presence/absence of doxycycline (or intracellular NOTCH1). Mammary tumors were examined histologically and immunophenotyped by staining with antibodies followed by flow cytometry. Tumors were transplanted into mammary fat pads under limiting dilution conditions, and tumor-initiating cell frequency was calculated. Mammary tumor cells were also plated in vitro in a tumorsphere assay in the presence/absence of doxycycline. RNA was isolated from mammary tumor cell lines cultured in the presence/absence of doxycycline and used for gene-expression profiling with Affymetrix mouse arrays. NOTCH1-regulated genes were identified and validated by using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Mammary tumor-bearing mice were treated with doxycycline to suppress NOTCH1 expression, and disease recurrence was monitored.

Results

Similar to published studies, we show that constitutive expression of human intracellular NOTCH1 in the developing mouse mammary gland inhibits side branching and promotes luminal cell fate. These mice develop mammary adenocarcinomas that express cytokeratin (CK) 8/18. In vivo limiting-dilution analyses revealed that these mammary tumors exhibit functional heterogeneity and harbor a rare (1/2,978) mammary tumor-initiating cell population. With this dox-regulated NOTCH1 mammary tumor model, we demonstrate that NOTCH1 inhibition results in mammary tumor regression in vivo and prevents disease recurrence in four of six tumors tested. Consistent with the in vivo data, NOTCH1 inhibition reduces mammary tumorsphere activity in vitro. We also identify the embryonic stem cell transcription factor Nanog as a novel NOTCH1-regulated gene in tumorspheres and in mouse and human breast cancer cell lines.

Conclusions

These data indicate that NOTCH1 inhibition results in mammary tumor regression in vivo and interferes with disease recurrence. We demonstrate that NOTCH1-transformed mouse mammary tumors harbor a rare mammary tumor-initiating population and that NOTCH1 contributes to mammary tumor-initiating activity. This work raises the possibility that NOTCH therapeutics may target mammary tumor-initiating cells in certain human breast cancer subtypes.