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Spatially correlated phenotyping reveals K5-positive luminal progenitor cells and p63-K5/14-positive stem cell-like cells in human breast epithelium

Journal article
Authors W. Boecker
L. van Horn
Göran Stenman
C. Sturken
U. Schumacher
T. Loening
L. Liesenfeld
E. Korsching
D. Glaser
K. Tiemann
I. Buchwalow
Published in Laboratory Investigation
Volume 98
Issue 8
Pages 1065-1075
ISSN 0023-6837
Publication year 2018
Published at Sahlgrenska Cancer Center
Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Pathology
Pages 1065-1075
Language en
Subject categories Pathology


Understanding the mechanisms regulating human mammary epithelium requires knowledge of the cellular constituents of this tissue. Different and partially contradictory definitions and concepts describing the cellular hierarchy of mammary epithelium have been proposed, including our studies of keratins K5 and/or K14 as markers of progenitor cells. Furthermore, we and others have suggested that the p53 homolog p63 is a marker of human breast epithelial stem cells. In this investigation, we expand our previous studies by testing whether immunohistochemical staining with monospecific anti-keratin antibodies in combination with an antibody against the stem cell marker p63 might help refine the different morphologic phenotypes in normal breast epithelium. We used in situ multilabel staining for p63, different keratins, the myoepithelial marker smooth muscle actin (SMA), the estrogen receptor (ER), and Ki67 to dissect and quantify the cellular components of 16 normal pre- and postmenopausal human breast epithelial tissue samples at the single-cell level. Importantly, we confirm the existence of K5+ only cells and suggest that they, in contrast to the current view, are key luminal precursor cells from which K8/18+ progeny cells evolve. These cells are further modified by the expression of ER and Ki67. We have also identified a population of p63+K5+ cells that are only found in nipple ducts. Based on our findings, we propose a new concept of the cellular hierarchy of human breast epithelium, including K5 luminal lineage progenitors throughout the ductal-lobular axis and p63+K5+ progenitors confined to the nipple ducts.

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