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Mech Dev. 1996 May;56(1-2):197-207.

Bax and Bcl-xs are induced at the onset of apoptosis in involuting mammary epithelial cells.

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Laboratory of Biochemistry and Metabolism, National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1812, USA.


Mammary gland involution is a physiological process in which the entire organ is remodeled through the process of apoptosis. Apoptosis of secretory alveolar cells is initiated at the time of weaning, followed by the collapse and disappearance of the entire lobuloalveolar compartment. While apoptotic figures were rare in mammary epithelium of lactating mice, their number increased after weaning and reached a maximum on day 3 of involution. Active cell death continued until day 5 after weaning and only little parenchyma remained on day 8, when remodeling of the gland was completed. Bax mRNA levels increased during the first day of involution independent of the presence or absence of p53. Bax protein was detected in an increasing number of cells after weaning, peaking at day 3 and decreasing thereafter. Low levels of bcl-x mRNA and protein were present during lactation, followed by a sharp increase during the first 2 days of involution. The bcl-xS splice variant of bcl-x can promote cell death, and bcl-xL has a protective function in cell culture. The ratio of bcl-xS versus bcl-xL remained stable in the virgin, pregnant and lactating gland. However, during the first 2 days of involution, bcl-xS expression increased six-fold more than bcl-xL. To further evaluate the role of Bcl-xS which was less abundant in the mammary cells than Bcl-xL, cotransfection studies were performed in cell culture. They confirmed that Bcl-xS protein can facilitate apoptosis even when Bcl-xL is present in excess. These findings point to a significant role for Bax and Bcl-xS in the regulation of apoptosis of secretory alveolar cells during involution.

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