Expression of menkes copper-transporting ATPase, MNK, in the lactating human breast: possible role in copper transport into milk

J Histochem Cytochem. 1999 Dec;47(12):1553-62. doi: 10.1177/002215549904701207.


The Menkes copper ATPase (MNK) is a copper efflux ATPase that is involved in copper homeostasis. Little is known about the intracellular localization and cell-specific function of the MNK in human tissues. To investigate a possible role for this protein in lactation, we measured its expression in sections of tissue from nonlactating and lactating human breast. Western blot analysis showed that MNK expression was greater in lactating tissue than in nonlactating tissue. By confocal immunofluorescence, the MNK was detected in luminal epithelial cells of the alveoli and ducts but not in myoepithelial cells. In the nonlactating breast epithelial cells, the MNK had a predominantly perinuclear distribution. In lactating breast tissue, the distribution of the MNK was markedly altered. Lactating epithelial cells showed a granular, diffuse pattern, which extended beyond the perinuclear region of the cell. This pattern was similar to that observed in a previous study in which cultured CHO cells were exposed to high copper concentrations. Our results suggest that relocalization of the MNK is a physiological process, which may be mediated by copper levels in the breast or by hormones and other events taking place during lactation. A vesicular pathway for copper from the Golgi into milk, similar to that of calcium, is proposed.(J Histochem Cytochem 47:1553-1561, 1999)

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / biosynthesis*
  • Antibody Specificity
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast / enzymology*
  • Carrier Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Cation Transport Proteins*
  • Cell Nucleus / enzymology
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Copper-Transporting ATPases
  • Epithelial Cells / enzymology
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lactation / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Milk Proteins / metabolism
  • Milk, Human / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Milk Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Copper
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • ATP7A protein, human
  • Copper-Transporting ATPases