Breast cancers evolve in a multistage process that can span decades after a carcinogenic exposure. It follows that long-lived precursor breast lesions persist in a subclinical state prior to completing malignant transformation, yet widely used breast cancer models lack an experimental framework for targeting premalignant disease. Inspired by classic multistage skin carcinogenesis protocols, we combined chemical carcinogenesis with transgenic mouse modeling to resolve mouse mammary carcinogenesis into discrete initiation and progression stages. At the initiation stage, exposure to the carcinogen 7,12-dimethylbenzanthracene (DMBA) generated "initiated mammary epithelial cells" (iMEC) by introducing a stereotyped HrasQ61L driver mutation. Whether DMBA exposure occurred during puberty or adulthood, mice efficiently acquired iMEC clones that eluded detection by conventional histology, yet were long lived, persisting in a clinically silent state for months in the absence of a cooperating event. At the progression stage, inducible activation of oncogenic Wnt signaling drove rapid and synchronous transformation of latent iMECs into overt mammary carcinomas, while Wnt activation in neighboring normal mammary epithelium yielded only benign hyperplasia over this same time period. Although early parity (completion of a full-term pregnancy) reduces breast cancer risk in some contexts, standard parity-induced protection schemes failed to eliminate iMECs in our multistage model, suggesting Wnt-responsive iMECs are maintained by hormone-independent mechanisms. Variations on our multistage modeling strategy may help to identify and validate cellular and molecular targets for breast cancer chemoprevention.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cancer Research