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High-Dimensional Phenotyping Identifies Age-Emergent Cells in Human Mammary Epithelia
Aging is associated with tissue-level changes in cellular composition that are correlated with increased susceptibility to disease. Aging human mammary tissue shows skewed progenitor cell potency, resulting in diminished tumor-suppressive cell types and the accumulation of defective epithelial progenitors. Quantitative characterization of these age-emergent human cell subpopulations is lacking, impeding our understanding of the relationship between age and cancer susceptibility. We conducted single-cell resolution proteomic phenotyping of healthy breast epithelia from 57 women, aged 16-91 years, using mass cytometry. Remarkable heterogeneity was quantified within the two mammary epithelial lineages. Population partitioning identified a subset of aberrant basal-like luminal cells that accumulate with age and originate from age-altered progenitors. Quantification of age-emergent phenotypes enabled robust classification of breast tissues by age in healthy women. This high-resolution mapping highlighted specific epithelial subpopulations that change with age in a manner consistent with increased susceptibility to breast cancer.