During differentiation, less-specialized stem cells mature into many different cell types with defined functions. These differentiated cells work together to form tissues and organs. In breast tissue, for example, differentiated basal cells and luminal cells combine to form milk ducts.
While analyzing cells from human breast tissue, Christine Chaffer, who is a postdoctoral researcher in the Weinberg lab and first author of the PNAS paper, observed a small number of living basal cells floating freely in the tissue culture medium.
Intrigued by the cells' unusual behavior, Chaffer conducted further targeted investigations, including injection of the floating basal cells into mice. After 12 weeks she found that the injected basal cells gave rise to milk duct-like structures containing both basal and luminal cellsa clear indication that the floating cells had de-differentiated into stem-like cells.
Until now, no one has shown that differentiated mammalian cells, like these basal cells, have the ability to spontaneously revert to the stem-like state (a behavior described as plasticity).
To see if basal cells could become cancer stem cells, Chaffer inserted cancer-causing genes into the cells. When these transformed cells were injected into mice, the resulting tumors were found to include a cancer stem cell population that descended from the original injected basal (more differentiated) cells. These results indicate that basal cells in breast cancer tumors can serve as a previously unidentified source of cancer stem cells.
As research for new cancer therapies has recently focused on eliminat
|Contact: Nicole Giese|
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research