Human breast cancer cell lines co-express neuronal, epithelial, and melanocytic differentiation markers in vitro and in vivo

PLoS One. 2010 Mar 16;5(3):e9712. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009712.


Differentiation programs are aberrant in cancer cells allowing them to express differentiation markers in addition to their tissue of origin. In the present study, we demonstrate the multi-lineage differentiation potential of breast cancer cell lines to express multiple neuronal/glial lineage-specific markers as well as mammary epithelial and melanocytic-specific markers. Multilineage expression was detected in luminal (MCF-7 and SKBR3) and basal (MDA-MB-231) types of human breast cancer cell lines. We also observed comparable co-expression of these three cell lineage markers in MDA-MB-435 cells in vitro, in MDA-MB-435 primary tumors derived from parental and single cell clones and in lung metastases in vivo. Furthermore, ectoderm multi-lineage transdifferentiation was also found in human melanoma (Ul-MeL) and glioblastoma cell lines (U87 and D54). These observations indicate that aberrant multi-lineage transdifferentiation or lineage infidelity may be a wide spread phenomenon in cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Lineage
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Melanocytes / cytology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • RNA, Messenger