Distinct stem cells contribute to mammary gland development and maintenance.
The mammary epithelium is composed of several cell lineages including luminal, alveolar and myoepithelial cells. Transplantation studies have suggested that the mammary epithelium is maintained by the presence of multipotent mammary stem cells. To define the cellular hierarchy of the mammary gland during physiological conditions, we performed genetic lineage-tracing experiments and clonal analysis of the mouse mammary gland during development, adulthood and pregnancy. We found that in postnatal unperturbed mammary gland, both luminal and myoepithelial lineages contain long-lived unipotent stem cells that display extensive renewing capacities, as demonstrated by their ability to clonally expand during morphogenesis and adult life as well as undergo massive expansion during several cycles of pregnancy. The demonstration that the mammary gland contains different types of long-lived stem cells has profound implications for our understanding of mammary gland physiology and will be instrumental in unravelling the cells at the origin of breast cancers.