The cell fate determinant Numb orchestrates tissue morphogenesis and patterning in developmental systems. In the human mammary gland, Numb is a tumor suppressor and regulates p53 levels. However, whether this function is linked to its role in fate determination remains unclear. Here, by exploiting an ex vivo system, we show that at mitosis of purified mammary stem cells (SCs), Numb ensures the asymmetric outcome of self-renewing divisions by partitioning into the progeny that retains the SC identity, where it sustains high p53 activity. Numb also controls progenitor maturation. At this level, Numb loss associates with the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and results in differentiation defects and reacquisition of stemness features. The mammary gland of Numb-knockout mice displays an expansion of the SC compartment, associated with morphological alterations and tumorigenicity in orthotopic transplants. This is because of low p53 levels and can be inhibited by restoration of Numb levels or p53 activity, which results in successful SC-targeted treatment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology