Breast tissue is very susceptible to radiation-induced carcinogenesis, and mammary stem/progenitor cells are potentially important targets of this. The mammary epithelium is maintained as two mostly independent lineages of luminal and basal cells. To elucidate their immediate radiation responses, we analyzed the mammary glands of female Sprague-Dawley rats, a radiation carcinogenesis model, using colony formation, flow cytometry and immunofluorescence. The results revealed that flow cytometry successfully fractionates rat mammary cells into CD49fhi CD24lo basal, CD49fmed CD24hi luminal progenitor, and CD49flo CD24hi mature luminal populations, resembling human breast, rather than mouse tissues. The colony-forming ability of the basal cells was more radiosensitive than the luminal progenitor cells. Flow cytometry and immunofluorescence showed more efficient cell cycle arrest, γ-H2AX responses, and apoptosis in the irradiated luminal progenitor cells, than in the basal cells. These results provide important insights into the early phase of radiation-induced breast cancer.

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