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Phenotypic plasticity in normal breast derived epithelial cells

Candice AM Sauder1, Jillian E Koziel2, MiRan Choi3, Melanie J Fox2, Brenda R Grimes2, Sunil Badve4, Rachel J Blosser1, Milan Radovich12, Christina C Lam5, Melville B Vaughan5, Brittney-Shea Herbert2 and Susan E Clare3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, Indiana University School of Medicine, 980 W. Walnut Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA

2 Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Indiana University School of Medicine, 975 W. Walnut Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA

3 Department of Surgery, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, 303 E. Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

4 Department of Pathology, Indiana University School of Medicine, 350 West 11th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA

5 Department of Biology, University of Central Oklahoma, 100 North University Drive, Edmond, OK 73034, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2014, 15:20  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-15-20

Published: 10 June 2014



Normal, healthy human breast tissue from a variety of volunteer donors has become available for research thanks to the establishment of the Susan G. Komen for the CureĀ® Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center (KTB). Multiple epithelial (K-HME) and stromal cells (K-HMS) were established from the donated tissue. Explant culture was utilized to isolate the cells from pieces of breast tissue. Selective media and trypsinization were employed to select either epithelial cells or stromal cells. The primary, non-transformed epithelial cells, the focus of this study, were characterized by immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, and in vitro cell culture.


All of the primary, non-transformed epithelial cells tested have the ability to differentiate in vitro into a variety of cell types when plated in or on biologic matrices. Cells identified include stratified squamous epithelial, osteoclasts, chondrocytes, adipocytes, neural progenitors/neurons, immature muscle and melanocytes. The cells also express markers of embryonic stem cells.


The cell culture conditions employed select an epithelial cell that is pluri/multipotent. The plasticity of the epithelial cells developed mimics that seen in metaplastic carcinoma of the breast (MCB), a subtype of triple negative breast cancer; and may provide clues to the origin of this particularly aggressive type of breast cancer. The KTB is a unique biorepository, and the normal breast epithelial cells isolated from donated tissue have significant potential as new research tools.

Plasticity; Breast; Metaplasia; Squamous; Basal; Embryonic; Epithelium