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Am J Pathol. 2000 Dec;157(6):2151-9.

Development of spontaneous mammary tumors in BALB/c p53 heterozygous mice. A model for Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

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Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA.


Breast cancer is the most frequent tumor type among women in the United States and in individuals with Li-Fraumeni syndrome. The p53 tumor suppressor gene is altered in a large proportion of both spontaneous breast malignancies and Li-Fraumeni breast cancers. This suggests that loss of p53 can accelerate breast tumorigenesis, yet p53-deficient mice rarely develop mammary tumors. To evaluate the effect of p53 loss on mammary tumor formation, the p53(null) allele was back-crossed onto the BALB/c genetic background. Median survival was 15.4 weeks for BALB/c-p53(-/-) mice compared to 54 weeks for BALB/c-p53(+/-) mice. Sarcomas and lymphomas were the most frequent tumor types in BALB/c-p53(-/-) mice, whereas 55% of the female BALB/c-p53(+/-) mice developed mammary carcinomas. The mammary tumors were highly aneuploid, frequently lost the remaining wild-type p53 allele, but rarely lost BRCA1. Although mammary tumors were rarely detected in BALB/c-p53(-/-) female mice, when glands from BALB/c-p53(-/-) mice were transplanted into wild-type BALB/c hosts, 75% developed mammary tumors. The high rate of mammary tumor development in the BALB/c background, but not C57Bl/6 or 129/Sv, suggests a genetic predisposition toward mammary tumorigenesis. Therefore, the BALB/c-p53(+/-) mice provide a unique model for the study of breast cancer in Li-Fraumeni syndrome. These results demonstrate the critical role that the p53 tumor suppressor gene plays in preventing tumorigenesis in the mammary gland.

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