On the basis of marker profile, the majority of breast carcinomas are thought to be derived from luminal epithelial cells; however, a subgroup of tumours with more mesenchymal characteristics are associated with a worse prognosis. The hypothesis of our study is that some breast carcinomas exhibit myoepithelial rather than pure mesenchymal differentiation and that acquisition of myoepithelial characteristics confers an aggressive phenotype. Pure luminal epithelial cells and fibroblasts are readily distinguished by many markers but distinguishing between myoepithelial and fibroblast cell lineages is more problematic. The markers found to be most discriminating in our study were CK14, alpha6beta4 integrin and the myoepithelial-associated desmosomal cadherin DSg3. These markers were applied to a series of breast cell lines and purified normal breast cell populations and the expression profile related to in vitro invasive behaviour. This demonstrated that expression of one or more myoepithelial markers by tumour cells (MDA MB 231, MDA MB 468, MDA MB 436) was associated with a high invasive capacity compared with cells with a pure luminal phenotype (MCF-7, T47D, ZR75). To address why myoepithelial characteristics are associated with higher invasion, the in vitro behaviour of normal myoepithelial cells and two other nontumourigenic breast cell lines (MCF-10A, HBL100) was also analysed. Primary myoepithelial cells from normal human breast exhibit a high invasive capacity when grown at low density, suggesting that invasive capacity is part of the myoepithelial phenotype. In keeping with this, both nontumourigenic cell lines exhibited features of the myoepithelial phenotype and a high invasive capacity. These results suggest that tumours that exhibit a myoepithelial phenotype may be clinically more aggressive because a high invasive capacity is intrinsic to the myoepithelial phenotype.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.