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Physiol Genomics. 2012 Jan 18;44(1):76-88. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00056.2011. Epub 2011 Nov 15.

Mammary gland morphological and gene expression changes underlying pregnancy protection of breast cancer tumorigenesis.

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Laboratory of Lactation and Mammary Gland Biology, Department of Animal Science, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA.


A full-term pregnancy early in life reduces lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, and the effect can be mimicked in rodents by full-term pregnancy or short-term treatment with exogenous estrogen and progesterone. To gain insight into the protective mechanism, 15 3-mo-old postpubertal virgin Lewis rats were randomly assigned to three groups: control (C), pregnancy (P), or hormone (H). The P group animals underwent a full-term pregnancy, and H group animals were implanted subcutaneously with silastic capsules filled with ethynyl estradiol and megesterol acetate for 21 days. C and P animals were implanted with sham capsules. On day 21 capsules were removed, which was followed by a 49-day involution period, euthanasia, and mammary tissue collection. Global gene expression was measured using Rat Genome 230.2 Arrays. Histological analysis revealed that P and H treatments induced sustained morphological changes in the mammary gland with significantly increased percentages of mammary parenchyma and stromal tissues and higher ratio of stroma to parenchyma. Transcriptome analysis showed that P and H treatments induced sustained global changes in gene expression in the mammary gland. Analysis of commonly up- and downregulated genes in P and H relative to C treatment showed increased expression of three matrix metallopeptidases (Mmp3, 8, and 12), more differentiated mammary phenotype, enhanced innate and adaptive immunity, and reduced cell proliferation and angiogenic signatures. The sustained morphological and global gene expression changes in mammary tissue after pregnancy and hormone treatment may function together to provide the protective effect against breast cancer.

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