Human breast cancers are broadly classified based on their gene-expression profiles into luminal- and basal-type tumors. These two major tumor subtypes express markers corresponding to the major differentiation states of epithelial cells in the breast: luminal (EpCAM(+)) and basal/myoepithelial (CD10(+)). However, there are also rare types of breast cancers, such as metaplastic carcinomas, where tumor cells exhibit features of alternate cell types that no longer resemble breast epithelium. Until now, it has been difficult to identify the cell type(s) in the human breast that gives rise to these various forms of breast cancer. Here we report that transformation of EpCAM(+) epithelial cells results in the formation of common forms of human breast cancer, including estrogen receptor-positive and estrogen receptor-negative tumors with luminal and basal-like characteristics, respectively, whereas transformation of CD10(+) cells results in the development of rare metaplastic tumors reminiscent of the claudin-low subtype. We also demonstrate the existence of CD10(+) breast cells with metaplastic traits that can give rise to skin and epidermal tissues. Furthermore, we show that the development of metaplastic breast cancer is attributable, in part, to the transformation of these metaplastic breast epithelial cells. These findings identify normal cellular precursors to human breast cancers and reveal the existence of a population of cells with epidermal progenitor activity within adult human breast tissues.
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