After isolating normal stem cells that form the developing placenta, scientists have given them the same properties of stem cells associated with an aggressive type of breast cancer.
The discovery made by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine opens the door for developing novel targeted therapies aimed at triple negative breast cancer.
"We changed only one amino acid in normal tissue stem cells, trophoblast stem cells. While they maintained their self-renewal, these mutant stem cells had properties very similar to what people predict in cancer stem cells: they were highly mobile and highly invasive," said Gary Johnson, senior study author.
The study led by the first authors, research assistant professor Amy N. Abell, and graduate student Nicole Vincent Jordan, showed that similar to triple-negative breast cancer stem cells, normal tissue stem cells also go through the same program of molecular changes during organ development called epithelial mesenchymal transition, or EMT.
This result further suggested that breast cancer cells utilize this tissue stem cell molecular program for tumor metastasis, or cancer spread.
The discovery was made using a unique mouse model of tissue stem cell EMT developed in the Johnson laboratory.
The study identified two proteins that regulate the expression of specific genes in tissue stem cells during organ development that control normal EMT.
Inactivation of the proteins MAP3K4 and CBP in trophoblast stem cells causes them to become hyperinvasive.
The study has been published online Friday, May 6, by the journal Cell Stem Cell.