The evidence for mammary epithelial stem cells and their phenotypic characteristics in normal and neoplastic development is reviewed. The presence of stem cells in all parts of the mammary parenchyma at all stages of differentiation has been demonstrated by transplantation experiments. The phenotypic characterization of stem cells has been defined by a battery of monospecific antibodies. These studies suggest that a mammary epithelium stem cell compartment exists in the basal layer of the gland as well as in the end bud. Whether these same stem cells are expressed in mammary preneoplasias and neoplasias has not been answered conclusively. Phenotypic markers specific for stem cells and stably expressed in transformed cell populations are needed to follow the fate of stem cells.
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