Adult stem-cells may serve as the cell-of-origin for cancer, yet their unbiased identification in single cell RNA sequencing data is challenging due to the high dropout rate. In the case of breast, the existence of a bipotent stem-like state is also controversial. Here we apply a marker-free algorithm to scRNA-Seq data from the human mammary epithelium, revealing a high-potency cell-state enriched for an independent mammary stem-cell expression module. We validate this stem-like state in independent scRNA-Seq data. Our algorithm further predicts that the stem-like state is bipotent, a prediction we are able to validate using FACS sorted bulk expression data. The bipotent stem-like state correlates with clinical outcome in basal breast cancer and is characterized by overexpression of YBX1 and ENO1, two modulators of basal breast cancer risk. This study illustrates the power of a marker-free computational framework to identify a novel bipotent stem-like state in the mammary epithelium.
Keywords: Adult stem cells; Cancer; Statistical methods.