Many epithelial tissues rely on multipotent stem cells for the proper development and maintenance of their diverse cell lineages. Nevertheless, the identification of multipotent stem cell populations within the mammary gland has been a point of contention over the past decade. In this review, we provide a critical overview of the various lineage-tracing studies performed to address this issue and conclude that although multipotent stem cells exist in the embryonic mammary placode, the postnatal mammary gland instead contains distinct unipotent progenitor populations that contribute to stage-specific development and homeostasis. This begs the question of why differentiated mammary epithelial cells can exhibit stem cell behavior in culture. We speculate that such reprogramming potential is repressed in situ under normal conditions but revealed in vitro and might drive breast cancer development.
Copyright © 2017. Published by Elsevier Ltd.