Background: This paper describes the derivation and characterization of a novel, conditionally immortal mammary epithelial cell line named KIM-2. These cells were derived from mid-pregnant mammary glands of a mouse harbouring one to two copies of a transgene comprised of the ovine beta-lactoglobulin milk protein gene promoter, driving expression of a temperature-sensitive variant of simian virus-40 (SV40) large T antigen (T-Ag).
Results: KIM-2 cells have a characteristic luminal epithelial cell morphology and a stable, nontransformed phenotype at the semipermissive temperature of 37 degrees C. In contrast, at the permissive temperature of 33 degrees C the cells have an elongated spindle-like morphology and become transformed after prolonged culture. Differentiation of KIM-2 cells at 37 degrees C, in response to lactogenic hormones, results in the formation of polarized dome-like structures with tight junctions. This is accompanied by expression of the milk protein genes that encode beta-casein and whey acidic protein (WAP), and activation of the prolactin signalling molecule, signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)5. Fully differentiated KIM-2 cultures at 37 degrees C become dependent on lactogenic hormones for survival and undergo extensive apoptosis upon hormone withdrawal, as indicated by nuclear morphology and flow cytometric analysis. KIM-2 cells can be genetically modified by stable transfection and clonal lines isolated that retain the characteristics of untransfected cells.
Conclusion: KIM-2 cells are a valuable addition, therefore, to currently available lines of mammary epithelial cells. Their capacity for extensive differentiation in the absence of exogenously added basement membrane, and ability to undergo apoptosis in response to physiological signals will provide an invaluable model system for the study of signal transduction pathways and transcriptional regulatory mechanisms that control differentiation and involution in the mammary gland.