The origin of the epithelial and myoepithelial cells in the human breast has not been delineated. In this study we have addressed whether luminal epithelial cells and myoepithelial cells are vertically connected, i.e., whether one is the precursor for the other. We used a primary culture assay allowing preservation of basic phenotypic traits of luminal epithelial and myoepithelial cells in culture. The two cell types were then separated immunomagnetically using antibodies directed against lineage-specific cell surface antigens into at best 100% purity. The cellular identity was ascertained by cytochemistry, immunoblotting, and 2-D gel electrophoresis. Luminal epithelial cells were identified by strong expression of cytokeratins 18 and 19 while myoepithelial cells were recognized by expression of vimentin and alpha-smooth muscle actin. We used a previously devised culture medium (CDM4) that allows vigorous expansion of proliferative myoepithelial cells and also devised a medium (CDM6) that allowed sufficient expansion of differentiated luminal epithelial cells based on addition of hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor. The two different culture media supported each lineage for at least five passages without signs of interconversion. We used parallel cultures where we switched culture media, thus testing the ability of each lineage to convert to the other. Whereas the myoepithelial lineage showed no signs of interconversion, a subset of luminal epithelial cells, gradually, but distinctly, converted to myoepithelial cells. We propose that in the mature human breast, it is the luminal epithelial cell compartment that gives rise to myoepithelial cells rather than the other way around.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.