The proto-oncogene Myc is essential for mammary stem cell function.
ABSTRACT The mammary epithelium comprises two major cell lineages: basal and luminal. Basal cells (BCs) isolated from the mammary epithelium and transplanted into the mouse mammary fat pad cleared from the endogenous epithelium regenerate the mammary gland, strongly suggesting that the basal epithelial compartment harbors a long-lived cell population with multipotent stem cell potential. The luminal cell layer is devoid of the regenerative potential, but it contains cells with clonogenic capacity, the luminal progenitors. Mammary BCs and luminal progenitors express high levels of the transcription factor Myc. Here, we show that deletion of Myc from mammary basal epithelial cells led to impaired stem cell self-renewal as evaluated by limiting dilution and serial transplantation assays. Luminal progenitor population was significantly diminished in mutant epithelium suggesting control by the BC layer. Colony formation assay performed with isolated BCs showed that clonogenic capacity was abolished by Myc deletion. Moreover, transplanted BCs depleted of Myc failed to produce epithelial outgrowths. Stimulation with ovarian hormones estrogen (E) and progesterone (P) partially rescued the repopulation capacity of Myc-depleted BCs; however, the Myc-deficient mammary epithelium developed in response to E/P treatment lacked stem and progenitor cells. This study provides the first evidence that in the mammary gland, Myc has an essential nonredundant function in the maintenance of the self-renewing multipotent stem cell population responsible for the regenerative capacity of the mammary epithelium and is required downstream from ovarian hormones, for the control of mammary stem and progenitor cell functions.