[en] BACKGROUND. Progenitor cells within the prostate basal layer may play important roles in differentiation and carcinogenesis; however, prostate stem cell populations remain uncharacterized. METHODS. Immunohistochemical and immunoblot analyses were used to characterize prostate epithelial cells (PrEC), a commercially available prostate basal cell isolate. RESULTS. Proliferating PrECs exhibited immunophenotypic characteristics most consistent with basal cells, but during senescence PrECs up-regulated androgen receptor (AR) mRNA, p27, and low-molecular-weight cytokeratin (LMWCK) expression, suggestive of partial differentiation. PrECs also stained strongly for involucrin, which marked a subset of intermediate prostate basal cells in vivo. Basal hyperplasia consisting of involucrin-positive cells was prevalent in prostate tissue from androgen-ablated patients, and formed epithelial clusters flanked by involucrin-negative basal and luminal monolayers. Cultivation of PrECs on matrigel together with androgen-treated stromal conditioned media resulted in dense aggregates, with a peripheral rim of basal-like cells expressing p63 and basal cytokeratins. CONCLUSIONS. PrEC represents an epithelial population whose basal characteristics are modified in response to matrigel, stromal factors, and senescence, consistent with a transient amplifying population. These cells may derive from a previously unrecognized, involucrin-positive subset present in vivo. (C) 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.