Expression of LGR5 in mammary myoepithelial cells and in triple-negative breast cancers

Sci Rep. 2021 Sep 7;11(1):17750. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-97351-y.


Lineage tracing in mice indicates that LGR5 is an adult stem cell marker in multiple organs, such as the intestine, stomach, hair follicles, ovary, and mammary glands. Despite many studies exploring the presence of LGR5 cells in human tissues, little is known about its expression profile in either human mammary tissue or pathological lesions. In this study we aim to investigate LGR5 expression in normal, benign, and malignant lesions of the human breast using RNA in situ hybridization. LGR5 expression has not been observed in normal lactiferous ducts and terminal duct lobular units, whereas LGR5-positive cells have been specifically observed in the basal myoepithelium of ducts in the regenerative tissues, ductal carcinoma in situ, and in ducts surrounded by invasive cancer cells. These findings suggest LGR5 marks facultative stem cells that are involved in post injury regeneration instead of homeostatic stem cells. LGR5 positivity was found in 3% (9 of 278 cases) of invasive breast cancers (BC), and it showed positive associations with higher histologic grades (P = 0.001) and T stages (P < 0.001), while having negative correlations with estrogen receptor (P < 0.001) and progesterone receptor (P < 0.001) expression. Remarkably, all LGR5-positive BC, except one, belong to triple-negative BC (TNBC), representing 24% (9 of 38 cases) of all of them. LGR5 histoscores have no correlations with EGFR, CK5/6, Ki-67, or P53 expression. Additionally, no β-catenin nuclear localization was observed in LGR5-positive BC, indicating that canonical Wnt pathway activation is less likely involved in LGR5 expression in BC. Our results demonstrate that LGR5 expression is induced in regenerative conditions in the myoepithelium of human mammary ducts and that its expression is only observed in TNBC subtype among all invasive BC. Further studies regarding the functional and prognostic impact of LGR5 in TNBC are warranted.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast / cytology
  • Breast / metabolism*
  • Breast / physiology
  • Breast Diseases / genetics
  • Breast Diseases / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / genetics
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fibroadenoma / genetics
  • Fibroadenoma / metabolism
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Papilloma, Intraductal / genetics
  • Papilloma, Intraductal / metabolism
  • Phyllodes Tumor / genetics
  • Phyllodes Tumor / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Neoplasm / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Regeneration / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • LGR5 protein, human
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled