Estrogen stimulates breast development during puberty and mammary tumors in adulthood through estrogen receptor-α (ERα). These effects are proposed to occur via ERα+ luminal cells and not the mammary stem cells (MaSCs) that are ERαneg. Since ERα+ luminal cells express stem cell antigen-1 (SCA-1), we sought to determine if SCA-1 could define an ERα+ subset of EpCAM+/CD24+/CD49fhi MaSCs. We show that the MaSC population has a distinct SCA-1+ population that is abundant in pre-pubertal mammary glands. The SCA-1+ MaSCs have less stem cell markers and less in vivo repopulating activity than their SCA-1neg counterparts. However, they express ERα and specifically enter the cell cycle at puberty. Using estrogen-deficient aromatase knockouts (ArKO), we showed that the SCA-1+ MaSC could be directly modulated by estrogen supplementation. Thus, SCA-1 enriches for an ERα+, estrogen-sensitive subpopulation within the CD24+/CD49fhi MaSC population that may be responsible for the hormonal sensitivity of the developing mammary gland. Mouse mammary stem cells are thought to be estrogen-receptor negative and receive hormonal influence via estrogen-receptor-positive luminal neighbors. In this article, Britt and colleagues describe a population within the mammary stem cell-enriched compartment that is estrogen-receptor positive and directly responsive to estrogens. This has implications for understanding how aberrant hormone exposure affects breast cancer risk.
- Mammary stem cells
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