Dormant Wnt-initiated mammary cancer can participate in reconstituting functional mammary glands

Shelley A. Gestl, Travis L. Leonard, Jessica L. Biddle, Michael T. Debies, Edward J. Gunther

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The minimal residual disease foci that beget breast cancer relapse after a period of disease dormancy remain uncharacterized despite their enormous clinical importance. To model dormant breast cancer in vivo, we employed a transgenic mouse model in which Wnt1-initiated mammary cancer is doxycycline dependent. After regression of Wnt-dependent cancers, subclinical disease lesions were propagated in vivo using classical tissue recombination techniques. Surprisingly, outgrowths derived from dormant malignant tissue reconstituted morphologically normal ductal trees in wild-type mammary fat pads. Whereas hyperplasia-derived outgrowths remained benign, outgrowths derived from dormant malignancy underwent a morphological transition suggesting single-step transformation following reactivation of Wnt signaling and rapidly yielded invasive mammary tumors. Remarkably, outgrowths derived from dormant malignancy could be serially propagated in vivo and retained the potential to undergo lobuloalveolar differentiation in response to hormones of pregnancy. Matching somatic H-Ras mutations shared by antecedent tumors and descendant mammary ductal outgrowths confirmed their clonal relatedness. Thus, propagation of epithelium that possesses a latent malignant growth program reveals impressive regenerative and developmental potential, supporting the notion that dormant mammary cancers harbor transformed mammary progenitor cells. Our results define an experimental paradigm for elucidating biological properties of dormant malignancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-207
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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