Background: The adult mammary epithelium is composed of basal and luminal cells. The luminal lineage comprises two major cell populations, positive and negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER and PR, respectively), both containing clonogenic progenitor cells. Deregulated ER/PR- luminal progenitor cells are suspected to be at the origin of basal-type triple-negative (TNBC) breast cancers, a subtype frequently associated with loss of P53 function and MET signaling hyperactivation. Using mouse models, we recently reported that p53 restricts luminal progenitor cell amplification whereas paracrine Met activation stimulates their growth and favors a luminal-to-basal switch. Here, we analyzed how these two critical pathways interact to control luminal progenitor function.
Methods: We have (i) established and analyzed the gene expression profile of luminal progenitors isolated by ICAM-1, a robust surface marker we previously identified; (ii) purified luminal progenitors from p53-deficient and p53-proficient mouse mammary epithelium to compare their functional and molecular characteristics; and (iii) analyzed their response to HGF, the major Met ligand, in three-dimensional cultures.
Results: We found that luminal progenitors, compared to non-clonogenic luminal cells, overexpress Trp53 and numerous p53 target genes. In vivo, loss of Trp53 induced the expansion of luminal progenitors, affecting expression of several important p53 target genes including those encoding negative regulators of cell cycle progression. Consistently, p53-deficient luminal progenitors displayed increased proliferative and self-renewal activities in culture. However, they did not exhibit perturbed expression of luminal-specific markers and major regulators, such as Hey1, Elf5, and Gata3. Moreover, although expressing Met at higher level than p53-proficient luminal progenitors, p53-deficient luminal progenitors failed to acquire basal-specific features when stimulated by HGF, showing that p53 promotes the plastic behavior of luminal progenitors downstream of Met activation.
Conclusions: Our study reveals a crosstalk between Met- and p53-mediated signaling pathways in the regulation of luminal progenitor function. In particular, it shows that neither p53 loss alone nor p53 loss combined with Met signaling activation caused an early detectable cell fate alteration in luminal progenitors. Conceivably, additional events are required to confer basal-specific characteristics to luminal-derived TNBCs.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Mammary gland; Met; Stem cells; p53.