Transforming growth factor-α promotes mammary tumorigenesis through selective survival and growth of secretory epithelial cells

Gilbert H. Smith, Richard Sharp, Edith C. Kordon, Chamelli Jhappan, Glenn Merlino

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49 Scopus citations


Transforming growth factor (TGF)-α stimulates the growth and development of mammary epithelial cells and is implicated in the pathogenesis of human breast cancer. In this report we evaluate the consequences of overexpressing TGF-α in the mammary gland of transgenic mice and examine associated cellular mechanisms. When operating on a FVB/N genetic background (line MT100), TGF-α induced the stochastic development of mammary adenomas and adenocarcinomas of secretory epithelial origin in 64% of multiparous females. In contrast, tumors were exceedingly rare in virgin MT100 females, MT100 males, and multiparous FVB/N females. In MT100 females multiple loci of hyperplastic secretory lesions preceded the development of frank tumors; these initial lesions appeared during the involution period after the first lactation. Serial transplantation of these hyperplasias indicated an absence of proliferative immortality. Nevertheless, they gave rise to tumors at a low frequency and after a prolonged latency in virgin hosts; in multiparous hosts, tumors developed earlier and at a high incidence. The TGF-α transgene was highly expressed in hyperplasias and tumors but not in virgin and nonlesion-bearing tissue, suggesting that TGF-α overexpression provides a selective growth advantage. TGF-α also induced at lactation a 6.4-fold increase in DNA synthesis in MT100 epithelial cells, many of which were binucleated. MT100 mammary tissue experienced an obvious delay in involution, resulting in the postlactational survival of a significant population of unregressed secretory epithelial cells. In contrast, another line of transgenic mice on a CD-1 genetic background (MT42), in which TGF-α overexpression induced liver but not mammary tumors, failed to demonstrate postlactational epithelial cell survival. These data show that TGF-α promotes mammary tumorigenesis in multiparous MT100 mice by stimulating secretory epithelial cell proliferation during lactation and prolonging survival during involution. These points support the notion that TGF-α can act as a mitogen and also as a differentiation factor in mammary epithelium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1096
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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