Rare steroid receptor-negative basal-like tumorigenic cells in luminal subtype human breast cancer xenografts

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Apr 15;105(15):5774-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0706216105. Epub 2008 Apr 7.


There are two major subtypes of human breast cancers: the luminal, estrogen, and progesterone receptor-positive, cytokeratin 18-positive (ER(+)PR(+)CK18(+)) subtype, and the basal ER(-)PR(-)CK18(-)CK5(+) subtype. Tumor-initiating cells (CD44(+)) have been described for human breast cancers; whether these are common to the two subtypes is unknown. We have identified a rare population of cells that are both CD44(+) and ER(-)PR(-)CK5(+) in luminal-like ER(+)PR(+) T47D human breast tumor xenografts. The tumor-isolated CD44(+) cell fraction was highly enriched for clonogenic (in vitro culture) and tumorigenic (in vivo reimplantation) cells compared with the CD44(-) cell fraction. Rare ER(-)PR(-)CK5(+) cells were present within CD44(+)-derived colonies. Tumor-isolated cells placed in minimal media also contained rare ER(-)PR(-)CK5(+) cells at early time points (<10 cells); however, this population did not expand with increasing colony size. The number of ER(+)PR(+)CK5(-) cells, conversely, increased linearly with colony growth. Similary, tumors originating in vivo from CD44(+) cells contained a rare static ER(-)PR(-)CK5(+) population, an intermediate ER(-)PR(-)CK5(-) population, and an expanding ER(+)PR(+)CK5(-) population. Putative ER(+)PR(+)CK5(+) transitional cells could be seen only in colonies or tumors treated with a progestin. We propose that luminal ER(+)PR(+) breast tumors contain a minor ER(-)PR(-)CK5(+) population that has the capacity to generate the majority of ER(+)PR(+)CK18(+)CK5(-) cells. Luminal breast cancers are treated with endocrine therapies that target ER. The rare ER(-)PR(-)CK5(+) progenitor cells would escape such treatments and survive to repopulate the tumor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Breast Neoplasms / classification
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronan Receptors
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms, Experimental
  • Receptors, Estrogen / deficiency*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / deficiency*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • Hyaluronan Receptors
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone