Mesenchymal traits are selected along with stem features in breast cancer cells grown as mammospheres

Silvia Borgna, Michela Armellin, Alessandra Di Gennaro, Roberta Maestro, Manuela Santarosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing evidence indicates that invasive properties of breast cancers rely on gain of mesenchymal and stem features, which has suggested that the dual targeting of these phenotypes may represent an appealing therapeutic strategy. It is known that the fraction of stem cells can be enriched by culturing breast cancer cells as mammospheres (MS), but whether these pro-stem conditions favor also the expansion of cells provided of mesenchymal features is still undefined. In the attempt to shed light on this issue, we compared the phenotypes of a panel of 10 breast cancer cell lines representative of distinct subtypes (luminal, HER2-positive, basal-like and claudin-low), grown in adherent conditions and as mammospheres. Under MS-proficient conditions, the increment in the fraction of stem-like cells was associated to upregulation of the mesenchymal marker Vimentin and downregulation of the epithelial markers expressed by luminal cells (E-cadherin, KRT18, KRT19, ESR1). Luminal cells tended also to upregulate the myoepithelial marker CD10. Taken together, our data indicate that MS-proficient conditions do favor mesenchymal/myoepithelial features, and indicate that the use of mammospheres as an in vitro tumor model may efficiently allow the exploitation of therapeutic approaches aimed at targeting aggressive tumors that have undergone epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4242-4251
Number of pages10
JournalCell Cycle
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - Nov 15 2012


  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Cell lines
  • Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition
  • Mammospheres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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