Introduction: Mammary tumors in mice are categorized by using morphologic and architectural criteria. Immunolabeling for terminal differentiation markers was compared among a variety of mouse mammary neoplasms because expression of terminal differentiation markers, and especially of keratins, provides important information on the origin of neoplastic cells and their degree of differentiation.
Methods: Expression patterns for terminal differentiation markers were used to characterize tumor types and to study tumor progression in transgenic mouse models of mammary neoplasia (mice overexpressing Neu (Erbb2), Hras, Myc, Notch4, SV40-TAg, Tgfa, and Wnt1), in spontaneous mammary carcinomas, and in mammary neoplasms associated with infection by the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV).
Results: On the basis of the expression of terminal differentiation markers, three types of neoplasm were identified: first, simple carcinomas composed exclusively of cells with a luminal phenotype are characteristic of neoplasms arising in mice transgenic for Neu, Hras, Myc, Notch4, and SV40-TAg; second, 'complex carcinomas' displaying luminal and myoepithelial differentiation are characteristic of type P tumors arising in mice transgenic for Wnt1, neoplasms arising in mice infected by the MMTV, and spontaneous adenosquamous carcinomas; and third, 'carcinomas with epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT)' are a characteristic feature of tumor progression in Hras-, Myc-, and SV40-TAg-induced mammary neoplasms and PL/J and SJL/J mouse strains, and display de novo expression of myoepithelial and mesenchymal cell markers. In sharp contrast, EMT was not detected in papillary adenocarcinomas arising in BALB/cJ mice, spontaneous adenoacanthomas, neoplasms associated with MMTV-infection, or in neoplasms arising in mice transgenic for Neu and Wnt1.
Conclusions: Immunohistochemical profiles of complex neoplasms are consistent with a stem cell origin, whereas simple carcinomas might originate from a cell committed to the luminal lineage. In addition, these results suggest that the initiating oncogenic events determine the morphologic features associated with cancer progression because EMT is observed only in certain types of neoplasm.