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Mol Cell Biol. 2003 Aug;23(16):5738-54.

Mouse mammary tumor virus c-rel transgenic mice develop mammary tumors.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Boston University Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


Amplification, overexpression, or rearrangement of the c-rel gene, encoding the c-Rel NF-kappaB subunit, has been reported in solid and hematopoietic malignancies. For example, many primary human breast cancer tissue samples express high levels of nuclear c-Rel. While the Rev-T oncogene v-rel causes tumors in birds, the ability of c-Rel to transform in vivo has not been demonstrated. To directly test the role of c-Rel in breast tumorigenesis, mice were generated in which overexpression of mouse c-rel cDNA was driven by the hormone-responsive mouse mammary tumor virus long terminal repeat (MMTV-LTR) promoter, and four founder lines identified. In the first cycle of pregnancy, the expression of transgenic c-rel mRNA was observed, and levels of c-Rel protein were increased in the mammary gland. Importantly, 31.6% of mice developed one or more mammary tumors at an average age of 19.9 months. Mammary tumors were of diverse histology and expressed increased levels of nuclear NF-kappaB. Analysis of the composition of NF-kappaB complexes in the tumors revealed aberrant nuclear expression of multiple subunits, including c-Rel, p50, p52, RelA, RelB, and the Bcl-3 protein, as observed previously in human primary breast cancers. Expression of the cancer-related NF-kappaB target genes cyclin D1, c-myc, and bcl-xl was significantly increased in grossly normal transgenic mammary glands starting the first cycle of pregnancy and increased further in mammary carcinomas compared to mammary glands from wild-type mice or virgin transgenic mice. In transient transfection analysis in untransformed breast epithelial cells, c-Rel-p52 or -p50 heterodimers either potently or modestly induced cyclin D1 promoter activity, respectively. Lastly, stable overexpression of c-Rel resulted in increased cyclin D1 and NF-kappaB p52 and p50 subunit protein levels. These results indicate for the first time that dysregulated expression of c-Rel, as observed in breast cancers, is capable of contributing to mammary tumorigenesis.

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