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Dev Biol. 2001 Jan 1;229(1):163-75.

Prolactin, growth hormone, and epidermal growth factor activate Stat5 in different compartments of mammary tissue and exert different and overlapping developmental effects.

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Laboratory of Genetics and Physiology, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Prolactin (Prl)-induced phosphorylation of Stat (signal transducer and activator of transcription) 5 is considered a key event in functional mammary development and differentiation. We now demonstrate that not only Prl, but also growth hormone (GH) and epidermal growth factor (EGF), can activate Stat5 in mammary tissue. We investigated the roles of these hormones in mammary development using mice in which the respective receptors had been inactivated. Although Prl receptor (PrlR)-null mice are infertile, we were able to maintain pregnancies in a few mice by treatment with progesterone. Mammary tissue in these mice was severely underdeveloped and exhibited limited differentiation as assessed by the phosphorylation status of Stat5 and the expression of milk protein genes. PrlR +/- mice showed impaired mammary development and alveolar differentiation during pregnancy, which corresponded with reduced phosphorylation levels of Stat5a and 5b, and impaired expression of milk protein genes. Development of the glands in these mice was arrested at around day 13 of pregnancy. While Prl activated Stat5 only in the epithelium, GH and EGF activated Stat5 preferentially in the stroma. To assess the relevance of the GH receptor (GHR) in the mammary gland, we transplanted GHR-null epithelium into cleared fat pads of wild-type mice. These experiments demonstrated that the GHR in the epithelium is not required for functional mammary development. Similarly, the EGFR in the epithelium is not required for alveolar development. In contrast, epithelial PrlR is required for mammary development and milk protein gene expression during pregnancy. Although GH is not required for alveolar development, we were able to demonstrate its lactogenic function in cultured mammary epithelium from PrlR-null mice. However, ductal development in GHR-null mice was impaired, supporting the notion that GH signals through the stromal compartment. Our findings demonstrate that GH, Prl, and EGF activate Stat5 in separate compartments, which in turn reflects their specific roles in ductal and alveolar development and differentiation.

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