Gene expression signatures relating mammary stem cell populations to breast cancers have focused on adult tissue. Here, we identify, isolate, and characterize the fetal mammary stem cell (fMaSC) state since the invasive and proliferative processes of mammogenesis resemble phases of cancer progression. fMaSC frequency peaks late in embryogenesis, enabling more extensive stem cell purification than achieved with adult tissue. fMaSCs are self-renewing, multipotent, and coexpress multiple mammary lineage markers. Gene expression, transplantation, and in vitro analyses reveal putative autocrine and paracrine regulatory mechanisms, including ErbB and FGF signaling pathways impinging on fMaSC growth. Expression profiles from fMaSCs and associated stroma exhibit significant similarities to basal-like and Her2+ intrinsic breast cancer subtypes. Our results reveal links between development and cancer and provide resources to identify new candidates for diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy.
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