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J Cell Physiol. 1998 Aug;176(2):245-54.

Staurosporine-induced versus spontaneous squamous metaplasia in pre- and postmenopausal breast tissue.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Ohio 45267-0529, USA.


Breast cancers from pre- vs. postmenopausal women display unique characteristics that may be related to differences in epithelial differentiation between these two populations. In addition to lobular development, lactational changes, and involution, breast epithelium can undergo metaplastic alterations, often in association with carcinoma. Because protein kinase C (PKC) regulates differentiation and proliferation in many cell types, we asked whether modulation of PKC activity could define biochemical differences in breast epithelium from pre- vs. postmenopausal women. Organ cultures of normal human breast were treated with PKC agonists and antagonists. Epithelial differentiation was evaluated based on morphologic criteria and the expression of cell-type specific proteins. Staurosporine, a nonspecific but extremely potent inhibitor of PKC, induced squamous metaplasia in eight of eight cases within 2 weeks of treatment. Other inhibitors of PKC, such as calphostin C and tamoxifen, had no effect on epithelial differentiation. Long-term treatment with phorbol esters also did not induce squamous metaplasia. However, stimulation of cAMP levels by forskolin and isobutyl-methyl-xanthene (IMX) rapidly induced squamous metaplasia, as has been previously reported. Surprisingly, squamous metaplasia occurred in 10 of 12 cultures derived from postmenopausal women in the absence of exogenous agents. Untreated cultures derived from premenopausal women never developed this type of epithelium (0 of 11). Therefore, breast epithelium from pre- and postmenopausal women responded differently to in vitro culture. Forskolin/IMX or staurosporine can reproduce these conditions, acting independent of menopausal status. Because staurosporine's action was unique among PKC inhibitors, staurosporine may induce squamous metaplasia of breast epithelium by a PKC-independent mechanism.

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