Breast cancer-initiating cells have been recently identified in breast carcinoma as CD44+/CD24(-/low) cells, which exclusively retain tumorigenic activity and display stem cell-like properties. However, at present, direct evidence that breast cancer-initiating cells can be propagated in vitro is still lacking. We report here the isolation and in vitro propagation of breast cancer-initiating cells from three breast cancer lesions and from an established breast carcinoma cell line. Our breast carcinoma-derived cultures encompassed undifferentiated cells capable of self-renewal, extensive proliferation as clonal nonadherent spherical clusters, and differentiation along different mammary epithelial lineages (ductal and myoepithelial). Interestingly, cultured cells were CD44+/CD24- and Cx43-, overexpressed neoangiogenic and cytoprotective factors, expressed the putative stem cell marker Oct-4, and gave rise to new tumors when as few as 10(3) cells were injected into the mammary fat pad of SCID mice. Long-term cultures of breast tumorigenic cells with stem/progenitor cell properties represent a suitable in vitro model to study breast cancer-initiating cells and to develop therapeutic strategies aimed at eradicating the tumorigenic subpopulation within breast cancer.
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