Notch3 marks clonogenic mammary luminal progenitor cells in vivo
The identity of mammary stem and progenitor cells remains poorly understood, mainly as a result of the lack of robust markers. The Notch signaling pathway has been implicated in mammary gland development as well as in tumorigenesis in this tissue. Elevated expression of the Notch3 receptor has been correlated to the highly aggressive “triple negative” human breast cancer. However, the specific cells expressing this Notch paralogue in the mammary gland remain unknown. Using a conditionally inducible Notch3-CreERT2SAT transgenic mouse, we genetically marked Notch3-expressing cells throughout mammary gland development and followed their lineage in vivo. We demonstrate that Notch3 is expressed in a highly clonogenic and transiently quiescent luminal progenitor population that gives rise to a ductal lineage. These cells are capable of surviving multiple successive pregnancies, suggesting a capacity to self-renew. Our results also uncover a role for the Notch3 receptor in restricting the proliferation and consequent clonal expansion of these cells.