Progesterone and Wnt4 control mammary stem cells via myoepithelial crosstalk
Ovarian hormones increase breast cancer risk by poorly understood mechanisms. We assess the role of progesterone on global stem cell function by serially transplanting mouse mammary epithelia. Progesterone receptor (PR) deletion severely reduces the regeneration capacity of the mammary epithelium. The PR target, receptor activator of Nf-kB ligand (RANKL), is not required for this function, and the deletion of Wnt4 reduces the mammary regeneration capacity even more than PR ablation. A fluorescent reporter reveals so far undetected perinatal Wnt4 expression that is independent of hormone signaling. Pubertal and adult Wnt4 expression is specific to PR+ luminal cells and requires intact PR signaling. Conditional deletion of Wnt4 reveals that this early, previously unappreciated, Wnt4 expression is functionally important. We provide genetic evidence that canonical Wnt signaling in the myoepithelium required PR and Wnt4, whereas the canonical Wnt signaling activities observed in the embryonic mammary bud and in the stroma around terminal end buds are independent of Wnt4. Thus, progesterone and Wnt4 control stem cell function through a luminal-myoepithelial crosstalk with Wnt4 acting independent of PR perinatally.