Background: Basal-like breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease characterized by the expression of basal cell markers, no estrogen or progesterone receptor expression and a lack of HER2 overexpression. Recent studies have linked activation of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway, and its downstream target, Myc, to basal-like breast cancer. Transgenic mice K5ΔNβcat previously generated by our team present a constitutive activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the basal myoepithelial cell layer, resulting in focal mammary hyperplasias that progress to invasive carcinomas. Mammary lesions developed by K5ΔNβcat mice consist essentially of basal epithelial cells that, in contrast to mammary myoepithelium, do not express smooth muscle markers.
Methods: Microarray analysis was used to compare K5ΔNβcat mouse tumors to human breast tumors, mammary cancer cell lines and the tumors developed in other mouse models. Cre-Lox approach was employed to delete Myc from the mammary basal cell layer of K5ΔNβcat mice. Stem cell amplification in K5ΔNβcat mouse mammary epithelium was assessed with 3D-culture and transplantation assays.
Results: Histological and microarray analyses of the mammary lesions of K5ΔNβcat females revealed their high similarity to a subset of basal-like human breast tumors with squamous differentiation. As in human basal-like carcinomas, the Myc pathway appeared to be activated in the mammary lesions of K5ΔNβcat mice. We found that a basal cell population with stem/progenitor characteristics was amplified in K5ΔNβcat mouse preneoplastic glands. Finally, the deletion of Myc from the mammary basal layer of K5ΔNβcat mice not only abolished the regenerative capacity of basal epithelial cells, but, in addition, completely prevented the tumorigenesis.
Conclusions: These results strongly indicate that β-catenin-induced stem cell amplification and tumorigenesis rely ultimately on the Myc pathway activation and reinforce the hypothesis that basal stem/progenitor cells may be at the origin of a subset of basal-like breast tumors.