Endothelial cell differentiation of human breast tumour stem/progenitor cells

Benedetta Bussolati, Cristina Grange, Anna Sapino, Giovanni Camussi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Breast tumour stem cells have been reported to differentiate in the epithelial lineage but a cross-lineage potential has not been investigated. We aimed to evaluate whether breast tumour stem cells were able to differentiate also into the endothelial lineage. We isolated and cloned a population of breast tumour stem cells, cultured as mammospheres that expressed the stem markers nestin and Oct-4 and not epithelial and endothelial differentiation markers, and formed serially transplantable tumours in SCID mice. When cultured in the presence of serum, mammosphere-derived clones differentiated in the epithelial lineage. When cultured in the presence of VEGF, the same clones were also able to differentiate in the endothelial lineage acquiring endothelial markers and properties, such as the ability to organize in Matrigel into capillary-like structures. In the transplanted tumours, originated from mammospheres, we demonstrate that some of the intratumour vessels were of human origin, suggesting an in vivo endothelial differentiation of mammosphere-derived cells. Finally, endothelial cell clones originated from mammospheres were able, when implanted in Matrigel in SCID mice, to form after 7 days a human vessel network and, after 3-4 weeks, an epithelial tumour suggesting that in the endothelial-differentiated cells a tumourigenic stem cell population is maintained. In conclusion, the results of the present study demonstrate that stem cells of breast cancer have the ability to differentiate not only in epithelial but also in endothelial lineage, further supporting the hypothesis that the tumour-initiating population possesses stem cell characteristics relevant for tumour growth and vascularization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-319
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


  • Angiogenesis
  • Breast carcinoma
  • Mammospheres
  • Tumour-derived stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Medicine


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