Vitamin D compounds reduce mammosphere formation and decrease expression of putative stem cell markers in breast cancer

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Apr;148:148-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.10.016. Epub 2014 Oct 31.


Breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) are a subset of tumor cells that are believed to be the cells responsible for the establishment and maintenance of tumors. Moreover, BCSCs are suggested to be the main cause of progression to metastasis and recurrence of cancer because of their tumor-initiating abilities and resistance to conventional therapies. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is an early precursor in breast carcinogenesis which progresses to invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). We have previously reported that a vitamin D compound, BXL0124, inhibits the progression of DCIS to IDC. In the present study we sought to determine whether this effect was mediated through an influence on BCSCs. In MCF10DCIS cells treated with vitamin D compounds (1α25(OH)2D3 or BXL0124), the breast cancer stem cell-like population, identified by the CD44(+)/CD24(-/low) and CD49f(+)/CD24(-/low) subpopulations, was reduced. To determine the effects of vitamin D compounds on cancer stem cell activity, the MCF10DCIS mammosphere cell culture system, which enriches for mammary progenitor cells and putative BCSCs, was utilized. Untreated MCF10DCIS mammospheres showed a disorganized and irregular shape. When MCF10DCIS cells were treated with 1α25(OH)2D3 or BXL0124, the mammospheres that formed exhibited a more organized, symmetrical and circular shape, similar to the appearance of spheres formed by the non-malignant, normal mammary epithelial cell line, MCF10A. The mammosphere forming efficiency (MFE) was significantly decreased upon treatment with 1α25(OH)2D3 or BXL0124, indicating that these compounds have an inhibitory effect on mammosphere development. Treatment with 1α25(OH)2D3 or BXL0124 repressed markers associated with the stem cell-like phenotype, such as CD44, CD49f, c-Notch1, and pNFκB. Furthermore, 1α25(OH)2D3 and BXL0124 reduced the expression of pluripotency markers, OCT4 and KLF-4 in mammospheres. This study suggests that vitamin D compounds repress the breast cancer stem cell-like population, potentially contributing to their inhibition of breast cancer. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled '17th Vitamin D Workshop'.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Mammosphere; Stem cell; Vitamin D; Vitamin D analog.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast / drug effects*
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Vitamin D / pharmacology*
  • Vitamins / pharmacology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin D