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01.10.2010 | Research article | Ausgabe 5/2010 Open Access

Breast Cancer Research 5/2010

RARα1 control of mammary gland ductal morphogenesis and wnt1-tumorigenesis

Breast Cancer Research > Ausgabe 5/2010
Ellen Cohn, Liliana Ossowski, Silvina Bertran, Christine Marzan, Eduardo F Farias
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​bcr2724) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

EC assisted in collection and assembly of data, data analysis and editing of the manuscript. LO assisted in conception and design, collection and assembly of data, data analysis, and manuscript writing. SB assisted in collection and assembly of in vivo data. CM assisted in collection, assembly and analysis of morphogenesis data. EFF assisted in conception and design, collection and assembly of data, and data analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Retinoic acid signaling pathways are disabled in human breast cancer suggesting a controlling role in normal mammary growth that might be lost in tumorigenesis. We tested a single receptor isotype, RARα1 (retinoic acid receptor isotype alpha, isoform 1), for its role in mouse mammary gland morphogenesis and mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV)-wingless-related MMTV integration site 1 (wnt1)-induced oncogenesis.


The role of RARα1 in mammary morphogenesis was tested in RARα1-knockout (KO) mice and in mammary tumorigenesis in bi-genic (RARα 1/KO crossed with MMTV-wnt1) mice. We used whole mounts analysis, stem cells/progenitor quantification, mammary gland repopulation, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR), test of tumor-free survival, tumor fragments and cell transplantation.


In two genetic backgrounds (129/Bl-6 and FVB) the neo-natal RARα 1/KO-mammary epithelial tree was two-fold larger and the pubertal tree had two-fold more branch points and five-fold more mature end buds, a phenotype that was predominantly epithelial cell autonomous. The stem/progenitor compartment of the RARα 1/KO mammary, defined as CD24low/ALDHhigh activity was increased by a median 1.7-fold, but the mammary stem cell (MaSC)-containing compartment, (CD24low/CD29high), was larger (approximately 1.5-fold) in the wild type (wt)-glands, and the mammary repopulating ability of the wt-gland epithelium was approximately two-fold greater. In MMTV-wnt1 transgenic glands the progenitor (CD24low/ALDHhigh activity) content was 2.6-fold greater than in the wt and was further increased in the RARα 1/KO-wnt1 glands. The tumor-free survival of RARα 1/KO-wnt1 mice was significantly (P = 0.0002, Kaplan Meier) longer, the in vivo growth of RARα 1/KO-wnt1 transplanted tumor fragments was significantly (P = 0.01) slower and RARα 1/KO-wnt1 tumors cell suspension produced tumors after much longer latency.


In vitamin A-replete mice, RARα1 is required to maintain normal mammary morphogenesis, but paradoxically, also efficient tumorigenesis. While its loss increases the density of the mammary epithelial tree and the content of luminal mammary progenitors, it appears to reduce the size of the MaSC-containing compartment, the mammary repopulating activity, and to delay significantly the MMTV-wnt1-mammary tumorigenesis. Whether the delay in tumorigenesis is solely due to a reduction in wnt1 target cells or due to additional mechanisms remains to be determined. These results reveal the intricate nature of the retinoid signaling pathways in mammary development and carcinogenesis and suggest that a better understanding will be needed before retinoids can join the armament of effective anti-breast cancer therapies.
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