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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2005 Mar;60 Spec No 1:32-41.

Mammary cancer and social interactions: identifying multiple environments that regulate gene expression throughout the life span.

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Institute for Mind and Biology, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Now that the human genome has been sequenced, along with those of major animal models, there is an urgent need to define those environments that interact with genes. The traditional view focuses on ways that gene products interact with the nuclear environment to regulate cell function, causing the physiologic changes, behaviors, and diseases manifest throughout development and aging. Although this view is essential, it is equally essential to understand the converse relationship, namely, to identify those environments at higher levels of organization that regulate the expression of specific genes. Given the vastness of this problem, one effective strategy is to start with a trait for which some of the genes have already been identified, such as malignant disease. In rats, social isolation and hypervigilance increase the incidence of mammary tumors, accelerate aging, and shorten the life span. We propose that similar environmental regulation of gene expression may underlie the disproportionately high mortality from premenopausal breast cancer of Blacks, a minority group that can experience high levels of loneliness and hypervigilance. Our goal is to identify which environments-social, psychological, hormonal, and cellular-regulate genetic mechanisms of mammary cancer risk as well as the specific times in the life span when they do so.

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