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Biochem J. 2006 Apr 1;395(1):21-30.

Weaning-induced expression of a milk-fat globule protein, MFG-E8, in mouse mammary glands, as demonstrated by the analyses of its mRNA, protein and phosphatidylserine-binding activity.

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  • 1Department of Applied Molecular Biosciences, Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, Nagoya University, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya 464-8601, Japan.


A milk membrane glycoprotein, MFG-E8 [milk fat globule-EGF (epidermal growth factor) factor 8], is expressed abundantly in lactating mammary glands in stage- and tissue-specific manners, and has been believed to be secreted in association with milk fat globules. In the present paper, we describe further up-regulation of MFG-E8 in involuting mammary glands, where the glands undergo a substantial increase in the rate of epithelial cell apoptosis, and a possible role of MFG-E8 in mediating recognition and engulfment of apoptotic cells through its specific binding to PS (phosphatidylserine). Immunoblotting and RNA blotting analyses revealed that both MFG-E8 protein and MFG-E8 mRNA were markedly increased in mammary tissue within 3 days of either natural or forced weaning (pup withdrawal) of lactating mice. Using immunohistochemical analysis of the mammary tissue cryosections, the MFG-E8 signal was detected around the epithelium of such involuting mammary glands, but was almost undetectable at early- and mid-lactation stages, although strong signals were obtained for milk fat globules stored in the alveolar lumen. Some signals double positive to a macrophage differentiation marker, CD68, and MFG-E8 were detected in the post-weaning mammary tissue, although such double-positive signals were much smaller in number than the MFG-E8 single-positive ones. Total MFG-E8 in milk was also increased in the post-weaning mammary glands and, furthermore, the free MFG-E8 content in the post-weaning milk, as measured by in vitro PS-binding and apoptotic HC11 cell-binding activities, was much higher than that of lactation. In addition, the post-weaning milk enhanced the binding of apoptotic HC11 cells to J774 macrophages. Sucrose density-gradient ultracentrifugation analyses revealed that such enhanced PS-binding activity of MFG-E8 was present in membrane vesicle fractions (density 1.05-1.13 g/ml), rather than milk fat globule fractions. The weaning-induced MFG-E8 might play an important role in the recognition and engulfment of apoptotic epithelial cells by the neighbouring phagocytic epithelial cells in involuting mammary glands.

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