The ability to generate differentiated and senescent progeny is a major determinant of breast cancer heterogeneity
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Breast cancer displays distinct subtypes, such as luminal A, luminal B, and basallike. The prognosis and therapeutic response of each subtype is different. The mechanisms involved in the generation of these tumor types are poorly understood. Our aim was to test whether the ability to generate senescent progeny contributes to breast cancer heterogeneity. A panel of 12 breast cancer cell lines, 31 isogenic clones, and 12 breast tumors were used. We classified breast cancer cell lines into senescent cell progenitor (SCP) and immortal cell progenitor (ICP) subtypes. All ER+ cell lines tested and some ER-positive (ER+) breast tumors displayed senescence. Acute loss and tamoxifen-mediated inactivation of ER triggered a robust senescence response in SCP type T47D cell line. In contrast, ER-overexpression, estrogen treatment and p21Cip1 knockdown inhibited senescence. Neutralization of reactive oxygen species also abolished senescence. Breast cancer cell subtypes displayed divergent ability to produce differentiated progeny. The SCP subtype cells produced CD24+ or ER+ luminal-like and ASMA+ myoepithelial-like progeny, in addition to CD44+ stem/progenitor-like cells. In contrast, ICP cell lines acted as differentiation-defective stem/progenitor cells. Some cell lines generated only CD44+/CD24-/ ER-/ASMA- progenitor/stem-like cells, and others only CD24+/ERluminal-like, but not ASMA+ myoepithelial-like cells. SCP cell lines were less tumorigenic, and they clustered with luminal A/normal like tumors. In contrast, ICP subtypes were more tumorigenic, and they clustered together with basal/luminal B tumors. Our results show that breast cancer cell lines clustering with luminal A/normal-like and basal/luminal B tumors respectively, differ from each other by the ability to generate differentiated and senescence-arrested progeny.