Lgr5 is a marker for fetal mammary stem cells, but is not essential for stem cell activity or tumorigenesis

NPJ Breast Cancer. 2017 Apr 24;3:16. doi: 10.1038/s41523-017-0018-6. eCollection 2017.


The search for the bipotent mammary stem cells that drive mammary development requires markers to enable their prospective isolation. There is general agreement that bipotent mouse mammary stem cells are abundant in late fetal development, but their existence in the adult is vigorously debated. Among markers useful for mammary stem cell identification, the Wnt co-receptor Lgr5 has been suggested by some to be both "necessary and sufficient" for bipotency and transplantation of adult mammary stem cell activity, though other studies disagree. Importantly, the relevance of Lgr5 to the bipotency of fetal mammary stem cells has not been studied. We show here that expression of a fluorescent protein driven by the endogenous Lgr5 promoter enables significant fetal mammary stem cell enrichment. We used lineage tracing to demonstrate embryonic cells expressing Lgr5 are bipotent, while their adult counterparts are myoepithelial restricted. Importantly, our data conclusively demonstrate that Lgr5 is dispensable for both fetal and adult mammary stem cell activity and for the development of mammary tumors.