Distinct effects of EGFR ligands on human mammary epithelial cell differentiation

Mukhopadhyay C1, Zhao X, Maroni D, Band V, Naramura M.
Source: PLoS ONE
Publication Date: (2013)
Issue: 8(10): e75907
Research Area:
Basic Research
Based on gene expression patterns, breast cancers can be divided into subtypes that closely resemble various developmental stages of normal mammary epithelial cells (MECs). Thus, understanding molecular mechanisms of MEC development is expected to provide critical insights into initiation and progression of breast cancer. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and its ligands play essential roles in normal and pathological mammary gland. Signals through EGFR is required for normal mammary gland development. Ligands for EGFR are over-expressed in a significant proportion of breast cancers, and elevated expression of EGFR is associated with poorer clinical outcome. In the present study, we examined the effect of signals through EGFR on MEC differentiation using the human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT)-immortalized human stem/progenitor MECs which express cytokeratin 5 but lack cytokeratin 19 (K5(+)K19(-) hMECs). As reported previously, these cells can be induced to differentiate into luminal and myoepithelial cells under appropriate culture conditions. K5(+)K19(-) hMECs acquired distinct cell fates in response to EGFR ligands epidermal growth factor (EGF), amphiregulin (AREG) and transforming growth factor alpha (TGFa) in differentiation-promoting MEGM medium. Specifically, presence of EGF during in vitro differentiation supported development into both luminal and myoepithelial lineages, whereas cells differentiated only towards luminal lineage when EGF was replaced with AREG. In contrast, substitution with TGFa led to differentiation only into myoepithelial lineage. Chemical inhibition of the MEK-Erk pathway, but not the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-AKT pathway, interfered with K5(+)K19(-) hMEC differentiation. The present data validate the utility of the K5(+)K19(-) hMEC cells for modeling key features of human MEC differentiation. This system should be useful in studying molecular/biochemical mechanisms of human MEC differentiation.