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Objective: Weaning is a process that results in a reduction in milk secretion, an increase in mammary epithelial cell (MEC) apoptosis, and involution of the mammary gland. The local mechanisms initiating MEC apoptosis and involution are unclear, although the physical morphology of the MEC may influence cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix communication and thus may alter function. This study examined the effect of physical distension of alveoli on the early molecular events that occur at the onset of involution of rat mammary glands.
Methods: Mammary tissue was collected post-mortem from lactating Sprague-Dawley rats at 0, 1, 3, and 6 h (n=6 per time point) following acute physical distension of an inguinal gland with isosmotic sucrose solution (0.8 ml; equivalent to ~6 h worth of milk accumulation) via the teat canal followed by sealing with adhesive (infused). The remaining teats on each rat were either left unsealed for pups to suckle (control), or were sealed to induce milk accumulation and mammary engorgement (engorged).
Results: There was a low number of positive in situ-end labeled (ISEL) nuclei in suckled control glands indicating they had a low number of cells with fragmented DNA or were apoptotic. However, there was a greater number of ISEL nuclei in sucrose-infused and milk-engorged teat-sealed glands by 1 and 6 h, respectively, such that these changes were accelerated by sucrose infusion, compared with milk accumulation alone. The timing of the decline in abundance of β1-integrin (cell-extracellular matrix protein) and occludin (tight junction protein), and increase in abundance of the activated apoptotic marker signal transducer and activator of transcription factor-3 (pSTAT3) protein were also accelerated by sucrose infusion.
Conclusion: Physical distension by sucrose infusion accelerated the onset of the first stage of mammary apoptosis and involution, supporting a role for mechanotransduction during these processes.