Review

Uncovering the stem cell hierarchy by genetic lineage tracing in the mammary gland

  • Received: 05 May 2016 Accepted: 07 July 2016 Published: 12 July 2016
  • The mammary gland is the distinct feature that gives the name to the class of mammals and distinguishes them from other animals. Functionally, the mammary gland is a secretory organ which main role is to produce milk to nourish the offspring. Organogenesis of the mammary gland starts during embryogenesis but occurs mainly after birth at puberty under the influence of hormonal cues. Throughout the adult life as well as during pregnancy, the mammary gland shows a remarkable regenerative ability, thus constituting an excellent model for studying stem cell biology. Although the mammary gland consists of a relatively simple epithelial structure with a luminal and a basal cell layers, these are indeed composed by distinct subsets of mammary epithelial cells. Flow cytometry and transplantation assay have identified several subpopulations of stem and/or progenitor cells in the mammary gland. Yet, physiological and developmental relevant information can only be obtained when investigating the stem cell hierarchy in the intact mammary gland. Genetic lineage tracing studies have offered unprecedented levels of information regarding the organization of the stem cell compartment and possible role of resident stem and/or progenitor cells at different stages of the mammary gland organogenesis. These studies, although creating a passionate debate, highlight the existence of heterogeneous stem cell compartment, where bipotent as well as unipotent mammary stem cells seems to co-exist. Genetic lineage tracing experiments provide relevant information on stem cells that are key for understanding both normal development as well as associated pathologies in human. It holds the promise of providing new insights into the cell-of-origin and heterogeneity of breast tumorigenesis.

    Citation: Liliana Osório, Fei Long, Zhongjun Zhou. Uncovering the stem cell hierarchy by genetic lineage tracing in the mammary gland[J]. AIMS Genetics, 2016, 3(2): 130-145. doi: 10.3934/genet.2016.2.130

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  • The mammary gland is the distinct feature that gives the name to the class of mammals and distinguishes them from other animals. Functionally, the mammary gland is a secretory organ which main role is to produce milk to nourish the offspring. Organogenesis of the mammary gland starts during embryogenesis but occurs mainly after birth at puberty under the influence of hormonal cues. Throughout the adult life as well as during pregnancy, the mammary gland shows a remarkable regenerative ability, thus constituting an excellent model for studying stem cell biology. Although the mammary gland consists of a relatively simple epithelial structure with a luminal and a basal cell layers, these are indeed composed by distinct subsets of mammary epithelial cells. Flow cytometry and transplantation assay have identified several subpopulations of stem and/or progenitor cells in the mammary gland. Yet, physiological and developmental relevant information can only be obtained when investigating the stem cell hierarchy in the intact mammary gland. Genetic lineage tracing studies have offered unprecedented levels of information regarding the organization of the stem cell compartment and possible role of resident stem and/or progenitor cells at different stages of the mammary gland organogenesis. These studies, although creating a passionate debate, highlight the existence of heterogeneous stem cell compartment, where bipotent as well as unipotent mammary stem cells seems to co-exist. Genetic lineage tracing experiments provide relevant information on stem cells that are key for understanding both normal development as well as associated pathologies in human. It holds the promise of providing new insights into the cell-of-origin and heterogeneity of breast tumorigenesis.


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